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"You can try to teach a dog to fly . . . or you can just buy a bird" Empathy in Healthcare: Training versus Selection

August 18, 2011
We need healthcare professionals and staff with empathy and compassion, who are patient-focused, quality-focused and “get” customer service and patient satisfaction.  These qualities are right for patients, and right for the healthcare system.

So, how do we make this happen?  Obviously, training is important, but how far will it take you?  A recent study indicates that, with physicians, it may not be as far as we’d like.  Research published in the Archives of Surgery showed that training improved the ability to consistently perform basic communication functions, but had no impact on perceived empathy.

“Factors such as lack of jargon, verbal facilitation skills, and effective summarizing can . . . be taught,” the researchers wrote.  But:  Researchers' prognosis was less certain when it came to improving residents' empathy, non-verbal communication and concern for others' views, which “have a significant innate component, often involving attitudes, and are more difficult to change,” the paper said.
Read more: Training helps residents explain diagnoses: study - Healthcare business news and research | Modern Healthcare http://bit.ly/orESrH

What to do?  Keep training, obviously.  Incorporate that training into the education programs, too.  What’s interesting, though is that medical and nursing schools are starting to look at ways to assess these “less trainable” qualities in the admission process.  Now hospitals are starting to incorporate assessment of these behaviors and functional capacities into the selection process for medical professionals and support staff at all levels.  It’s a start.  When it comes to selecting an individual for any position, including a healthcare professional, the reality is that some things don’t change too much, no matter how much training you do.  As one of my colleagues likes to say – “You can try to teach a dog to fly . . . or you can just buy a bird.”

Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.