Medical Students and Physicians Need to Practice with Empathy in Caring for Patients, says New WMA President

Medical students and physicians are becoming so exposed to the science of medicine that they are forgetting the emotional needs of their patients, according to the new President of the World Medical Association.

Dr. Miguel Jorge, in his inaugural Presidential speech at the WMA’s annual Assembly in Tbilisi, Georgia, said most of the students entering medical school did so because they said they wanted to help people who were suffering. But studies showed that when they left medical school, they were usually less sensitive to the patient’s needs than when they started.

‘What happened in between?’, he asked. ‘One possible reason is that students, during their medical education, are more and more exposed to the biological nature of illnesses than to the social environment surrounding their patients and the development of diseases. They also are not adequately taught to take into consideration the emotional aspects of those they are assisting’.

Dr. Jorge, Director of the Brazilian Medical Association and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Federal University of São Paulo, said that a good physician needs to be able to put him or herself in the place of their patients, trying to feel as they feel, in order to better understand their needs.

‘In medical care, it is as essential to have empathy as it is to be able to examine the patient from the outside. We all hear that medicine is both science and art but, in the last few decades, the practice of medicine is more and more reflecting an emphasis just on its scientific nature.

‘A competent physician is not a good mechanic of the human body, but someone who equally combines technical excellency with being close to their patients, respecting their dignity, and showing them empathy and compassion’.

Dr. Jorge said that physicians had to learn how to use the new tools provided by the progress of medical science and developments such as social media to improve the physician-patient relationship and not allow themselves to move away from communicating with their patients.

He added that physicians working under difficult circumstances often cannot do what they consider to be the best for their patients due to the scarcity of resources. But he emphasized that they can accomplish at least partially their mission if they give a little more time and show empathy and attention to their patients.