The practice of medicine is often described as both a science and an art, where knowledge from fields of biology is applied in an approach based on ethics and human values. A cornerstone of this approach is empathy, which is the ability to understand the feelings of another, imagining what it might be like to experience what that person is feeling. Simply put, being empathetic is to see the world in someone else’s eyes or to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
medical interview Empathy question Example:
You are a GP talking to a patient in your surgery that is anxiously awaiting test results for a condition they are concerned they might have. How would you approach the situation?
When asked a question like this in a Medical School interview, you may want to consider the following points:
Listen to the patient. Understand what the patient is specifically concerned about, it may be they are worried about how their condition will affect their ability to work, to take part in the hobbies they enjoy, or they are worried they will be a burden to those around them.
Understand the patient’s expectations. Do they think it is likely that they will be diagnosed? How do they think life would be different for them with this condition?
By understanding the patient’s perspective, you might be able to relate to them. Has a similar circumstance happened to you or a family member/friend? If so, consider what you were feeling at the time. What emotions did you have? What was important for you to know?
Paraphrase back to the patient what they have said to show you have taken on board what they have conveyed. Express what you understand to be what they are feeling, identifying their concerns. Show that you know what the patient’s expectations are. If the patient’s expectations are in any way wrong, you will need to address this.
It’s important not to feel disheartened if you struggle to be empathetic in some situations. Practice applying the framework in the above mock answer to begin to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Remember not to neglect this ‘art’ of medicine, as it can be just as necessary as scientific knowledge.
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