Improving empathy and relational skills in otolaryngology residents: a pilot study

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2011 Jan;144(1):120-2. doi: 10.1177/0194599810390897.


Physician empathy and relational skills are critical factors predicting quality of care, patient safety, patient satisfaction, and decreasing malpractice claims. Studies indicate that physician empathy declines throughout medical training, yet little is published about methods to enhance empathy, especially in surgical residency training. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires competencies in 6 areas, including interpersonal skills and communication. To address this important problem, the first author developed an innovative empathy-relational skills training protocol focusing on the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of empathy and the interpersonal processes that positively affect the patient-doctor relationship. The authors tested the effectiveness of this protocol in a pilot study with 11 otolaryngology residents. Results showed that a brief series of 3 empathy training sessions can significantly improve physicians' knowledge of the neurobiology and physiology of empathy, as well as their self-reported capacity to empathize with patients. A trend toward increased patient satisfaction was observed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Otolaryngology / education*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Pilot Projects