Empathy in the Physician-Patient Relationship: How Physicians Define, Develop, and Demonstrate Emotional Work in Clinical Practice
2nd prize winner of the Friends of Fondren Library Undergraduate Research Awards, 2013.
In recent years, much research has been focused on the role of empathy in the patientphysician relationship. Empathy has been shown to improve patient communication, trust, and clinical outcomes. Driven by this evidence, the physician-patient interaction has shifted in recent decades from a relationship that once discouraged empathy to one that now requires it as a fundamental element of the physician scope of practice. The majority of this research examines correlates of empathetic behavior, longitudinal changes in patient-centeredness scores, or behavioral coding of physician-patient relationships, leaving knowledge gaps in questions of meaning or process surrounding clinical empathy. This study attempts to link the quantitative aspects of medical research on empathy with the sociological concept of emotion labor. Semistructured narrative interviews will be conducted with emergency medicine physicians and residents at two Level I trauma centers at academic medical centers. As an outcome, this study aspires to understand how physicians conceptualize empathy, consider its role within their broader scope of responsibilities, and experience changes in empathy over time. These findings will provide an explanatory theoretical framework of empathy in the medical setting to strengthen future evaluations and interventions.