Honors College Thesis


The Doctor-Patient Relationship: How a Physician Navigates Clinical Empathy and Patient Death Public Deposited

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  • As the importance of empathy in medicine has become more understood the dynamic of the patient-doctor relationship has changed. However, how to properly incorporate empathy into a healthcare relationship has not been thoroughly investigated. There is also continued disagreement on how to appropriately define empathy in a healthcare setting. The objectives of this research paper are to discuss these topics in further detail. In addition, there has been limited research regarding the impact on grief and coping with patient death when physicians form empathetic relationships with their patients. This research paper seeks to analyze this in further depth to investigate whether the empathetic model of patient care causes more emotional distress for physicians in the face of patient death. In order to answer these questions, an in-depth review of the literature on this subject was performed. Then one-on-one interviews with eight physicians were conducted to gain a first-hand account of these topics and further the understanding of the literature review. The findings of this study emphasized the components of emotional attunement, engaged curiosity, and skillful cognition by the physician in defining clinical empathy. The practice of clinical empathy relies on effective communication skills, the establishment of mutual trust, and the building of appropriate boundaries through shared decision-making between the doctor and the patient. The literature review and physician interviews had a mix of answers regarding whether forming empathetic relationships with patients made coping with their death or poor clinical outcomes more difficult. The conclusion was that regardless of whether it made it more challenging, forming empathetic relationships with patients was still worthwhile and adds richness to the medical profession.
  • Key Words: patient-doctor relationship, clinical empathy, shared decision-making, grief, patient death
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