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J Surg Educ. 2018 Jan - Feb;75(1):88-94. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2017.06.035. Epub 2017 Jul 14.

A Review of Empathy, Its Importance, and Its Teaching in Surgical Training.

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Department of Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina. Electronic address:
Department of Surgery, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio. Electronic address:



There has been much discussion in the medical literature about the importance of empathy and physician communication style in medical practice. Empathy has been shown to have a very real positive effect on patient outcomes. Most of the existing literature speaks to its role in medical education, with relatively little empiric study about empathy in the surgical setting.


Review of empathy and its importance as it pertains to the surgeon-patient relationship and improving patient outcomes, and the need for increased education in empathy during surgical training.


The published, peer-reviewed literature on patient-physician and patient-surgeon communication, medical student and resident education in empathy, and empathy research was reviewed. PubMed was queried for MESH terms including "empathy," "training," "education," "surgery," "resident," and "communication."


There is evidence of a decline in empathy that begins during the clinical years of medical school, which continues throughout residency training. Surgeons are particularly susceptible to this decline as by-product of the nature of their work, and the current lack of formalised training in empathic patient communication poses a unique problem to surgical residents.


The literature suggests that empathy training is warranted and should be incorporated into surgical residencies through didactics, role-playing and simulations, and apprenticeship to empathic attending role models.


Interpersonal and Communication Skills; Patient Care; Professionalism; empathy; patient satisfaction; review; surgical education

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