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Rambam Maimonides Med J. 2015 Apr 29;6(2):e0014. doi: 10.5041/RMMJ.10198. eCollection 2015 Apr.

Clinical empathy and narrative competence: the relevance of reading talmudic legends as literary fiction.

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Assistant Professor of Medicine, Mayo Medical School; Consultant, Division of Executive and International Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA.


The "curative potential" in almost any clinical setting depends on a caregiver establishing and maintaining an empathic connection with patients so as to achieve "narrative competence" in discerning and acting in accord with their preferences and best interests. The "narrative medicine" model of shared "close reading of literature and reflective writing" among clinicians as a means of fostering a capacity for clinical empathy has gained validation with recent empirical studies demonstrating the enhancement of theory of mind (ToM), broadly conceived as empathy, in readers of literary fiction. Talmudic legends, like that of Rabbi Judah's death, are under-appreciated, relevant sources of literary fiction for these efforts. The limitations of narrative medicine are readily counterbalanced by simultaneously practiced attention to traditional bioethical principles, including-especially-beneficence, non-maleficence, and autonomy.


Empathy; literature; narrative medicine

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