ABSTRACT

Empathy plays a critical interpersonal and societal role, enabling sharing of experiences, needs, and desires between individuals and providing an emotional bridge that promotes pro-social behavior. This capacity requires an exquisite interplay of neural networks and enables us to perceive the emotions of others, resonate with them emotionally and cognitively, to take in the perspective of others, and to distinguish between our own and others’ emotions. Studies show empathy declines during medical training. Without targeted interventions, uncompassionate care and treatment devoid of empathy, results in patients who are dissatisfied. They are then much less likely to follow through with treatment recommendations, resulting in poorer health outcomes and damaged trust in health providers. Cognitive empathy must play a role when a lack of emotional empathy exists because of racial, ethnic, religious, or physical differences. Healthcare settings are no exception to conscious and unconscious biases, and there is no place for discrimination or unequal care afforded to patients who differ from the majority culture or the majority culture of healthcare providers. Much work lies ahead to make healthcare equitable for givers and receivers of healthcare from all cultures. Self- and other-empathy leads to replenishment and renewal of a vital human capacity. If we are to move in the direction of a more empathic society and a more compassionate world, it is clear that working to enhance our native capacities to empathize is critical to strengthening individual, community, national, and international bonds.

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