Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics

Special Section: Compassion: What Does It Really Mean?

The Relationship of Empathy to Moral Reasoning in First-Year Medical Students

Donnie J. Selfa1, Geetha Gopalakrishnana2, William Robert Kisera3 and Margie Olivareza4

a1 A Professor in the Departments of Humanities in Medicine, Philosophy, and Pediatrics, Texas A&M University College of Medicine, College Station, Texas.

a2 A resident in the Department of Internal Medicine, Brown University School of Medicine, Providence, Rhode Island.

a3 Associate Director of the Family Practice Residency Training Program, Naval Hospital, Jacksonville, Florida.

a4 Research Assistant in the Department of Humanities in Medicine, Texas A&M University College of Medicine, College Station, Texas.

The Norman Rockwell image of the American physician who fixed the broken arm of a child, treated the father for hypertension, and brought an unborn child into this world is now almost nonexistent. Since the time of the Rockwell portrait, a highly technical medical industry has evolved. Now two-thirds of physicians are board certified in subspecialties, and patients visit an average of 3–4 different physicians per year. Today's physicians see themselves less as “benevolent and wise counselors overseeing the patient's welfare and more as objective scientists applying the latest technical methods to bring about the desired end.” The intimate patient-physician relationship that was once the norm in our society is rapidly disappearing.