Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Moral Improvement (Part I of III)
For physicians, empathy is a cognitive skill of being able to recognize and validate a patient’s experiences and perspectives, and to communicate their understanding back to the patient. This skill has been a focus of medical schools across the United States to improve empathy within medical students though pledges of devotion, classes focused on physician-patient relationship, and objective structured clinical examinations. A scale called the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy (JSPE) was developed to quantitatively measure both physicians and medical students’ empathy levels. Studies have shown medical students experience a significant decrease in empathy scores at the end of their third year of medical school which persists until graduation.
These studies’ results propose a disturbing question. During their third year of medical school, when medical students begin working closely with patients, their empathy scores took a significant decrease. So, is this lack of empathy because they began working closely with patients?
Many others question the validity of these previous studies. They propose other possible causes including, medical student burnouts, increased time pressure, negative clinical experience, and overreliance on technology. Studies in other areas of the world propose this is a lack of communication, not a lack of empathy. They have shown incorporating workshops and other tactics focused on improving communication have helped increase empathy scores.
One area of drug research has a focus that many have proposed to help fix the lack of empathy in physicians, medical students, and many others: moral improvement medication. Studies show that certain drugs affect how people respond to moral dilemmas by increasing empathy, group affiliation, and reducing their aggression. This could improve individual’s relationships with others as well as their careers. These medications could help improve our basic moral behavior to be helpful to others, feel responsible, and improve solidarity.
There are also many risks and problems that could surface from the use of this medication as do with any medication like side effects, exploitation, and it simply not working as we intended.