Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

How to be a cool headed clinician

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 08 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3980

Re: How to be a cool headed clinician

Right & Wrong Meaning & Understanding

Daniel Sokol is right to raise awareness of experience, feedback & reflection to enhance learning. He is wrong that empathy cannot be taught and enhanced and also that empathy & imperturbability are not compatible.

His concept of empathy is sympathy. True empathy is being able to put ourselves in another person's shoes (their situation, thinking, feeling and meaning) and, most importantly, to communicate that understanding to our patient or colleague. Empathy and not sympathy is the key ingredient of Motivational Interviewing (Miller & Rollnick) and the major influence in deep learning (Carl Rogers--Freedom to Learn).

Imperturbability means balanced, unbiased, independent, calm & coherent--not indifferent and uninterested.

Empathy and balance are compatible.

I hope that doctors involved in my family care have these attributes and that medical teachers have empathy and imperturbability towards their learners and promote these as important medical skills to be learned and fostered in the years ahead.

Competing interests: No competing interests

22 June 2012
David E Bee
General Practitioner
St Brycedale Surgery Kirkcaldy