January 10, 1994

The Empathic Physician

Author Affiliations

Madison, Wis

Arch Intern Med. 1994;154(1):106. doi:10.1001/archinte.1994.00420010142017

What a wonderful explication of the interpersonal phenomenon called empathy by Zinn.1 In my own study of this clinical skill, at once (for me) diagnostic, therapeutic, and personally/ professionally rewarding, I cannot recall a more thoughtful analysis or lucid presentation. Zinn has contributed importantly to my understanding of "doctoring," an interpersonal healing phenomenon shared, I believe, with our brothers and sisters in the major and minor healing and caring professions throughout history. Our equally wonderful biomedical technology has tended to marginalize "doctoring" and has distracted us from valuing and developing the skills of empathic understanding and responding. Not if, but when we demarginalize "doctoring," we will also realize restored social approval, fewer malpractice claims, better patient cooperation, fewer tests ordered, fewer medications prescribed, and greater personal satisfaction with our work. Grandiose? Maybe. Wouldn't it be wonderful? Stay tuned.

I also propose two questions for reflection: To what extent does

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