When patients teach students empathy: a systematic review of interventions for promoting medical student empathy





Background: Despite growing emphasis on empathic care, numerous studies demonstrate diminishing empathy in medical students. Involving patient educators in medical curricula may be a solution. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review to evaluate patient-involved interventions that promote empathy among medical students. 

Method: A literature search of MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, and ERIC databases was performed using the keywords “empathy,” “medical student,” and their synonyms. Results were independently screened in duplicate. Conflicts were resolved by group consensus. All English studies describing interventions that promote empathy in medical students engaging patient educators were included. Relevant data was extracted and summarized.

Results: 1467 studies were screened. 14 studies were included, of which 10 were pilot studies. Studies included patient involved interventions such as storytelling (5/14), shadowing patients (3/14), recorded videos (3/14), or combinations of methods (3/14). Qualitative measurements of empathy included written feedback and group discussions. Quantitative measurements included validated scales measuring empathy. All studies demonstrated increase in empathy among medical students. Participants reported satisfaction with training and patients reported being proud of giving back by training future physicians.

Conclusion: Interventions engaging patient educators were shown to have a positive impact on medical student empathy. Furthermore, patient-led education was shown to increase medical student understanding of subject and knowledge retention while empowering patients. Further implementation of patient-involved education is an important step forward in patient-partnered care and may identify additional advantages of patient engagement in medical education.


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How to Cite

Boshra M, Lee A, Kim I, Malek-Adamian E, Yau M, LaDonna K. When patients teach students empathy: a systematic review of interventions for promoting medical student empathy. Can. Med. Ed. J [Internet]. 2022 Oct. 18 [cited 2022 Dec. 4];13(6):46-5. Available from: https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/cmej/article/view/73058



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