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Empathy in paramedic practice: an overview

02 April 2019
Volume 11 · Issue 4


Empathy is generally considered to be the understanding of another person's reactions, thoughts, feelings and problems, and being able to relay this sense of understanding back to the individual. Empathy in healthcare is associated with improved communication, reduced stress, lower complication rates and better clinical outcomes. Low empathy is associated with decreased patient satisfaction and provider burnout. The burden of emotional work in paramedic practice and coping strategies may be contributory factors to lower empathy. Some evidence suggests that the empathy of paramedic students varies between patient groups and can decline over time. Empathy is an interpersonal skill that can be learned and improved upon. In paramedic practice, it is complex and inadequately studied. Its relationship to patient care, paramedic burnout and wellbeing require investigation. Several strategies to teach empathy should be considered by educators.

After completing this module the paramedic will be able to:

Though there is no single agreed upon definition of empathy, a general consensus exists that it is an understanding of another person's reactions, thoughts, feelings and problems (Eisenberg, 2000; Myers, 2000; Burks and Kobus, 2012). Empathy involves not only understanding another person but also demonstrating that understanding to them while maintaining some level of emotional detachment (Burks and Kobus, 2012). Morse's components of empathy (Table 1) displays empathy as a multidimensional characteristic, encompassing all aspects of the human psyche (Morse et al, 1992). Empathy is not driven entirely by emotions as most would presume, which is what primarily differentiates empathy and sympathy. Empathy encompasses four components that lead to a successful human interaction.

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