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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 136-137

The need for empathy-based medical education

Department of Medicine, ESIC Medical College and PGIMSR, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Web Publication12-Jun-2019

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Vijayaraghavan Padmanabhan
Thodi–Wing1 B2, Ragamalika Apartments, Thiruvengadam St., R. K. Nagar, Chennai - 600 028, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/amhs.amhs_124_18

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How to cite this article:
Padmanabhan V. The need for empathy-based medical education. Arch Med Health Sci 2019;7:136-7

How to cite this URL:
Padmanabhan V. The need for empathy-based medical education. Arch Med Health Sci [serial online] 2019 [cited 2022 Oct 3];7:136-7. Available from: https://www.amhsjournal.org/text.asp?2019/7/1/136/260001


The Medical Council of India has recently released the document titled Competency Based Undergraduate Curriculum for The Indian Medical Graduate (2018).[1] It has been officially announced that the new curriculum will be introduced for the MBBS students from the academic year 2019–2020. It seeks to replace the existing curriculum, which was notified in 1997.

Competency is the central theme in the document. The competencies to be acquired by the student are divided into general competencies and subcompetencies (or subject-wise competencies). Under the latter, there are 23 subjects (including preclinical, paraclinical, medicine and allied, and surgery and allied subjects). Under these, there are 412 topics, and under these, 2949 competencies are to be taught during the entire curriculum.

The new curriculum has a separate module called AETCOM – Attitude, Ethics, and Communication competencies,[2] giving due importance to the crucial aspect of developing the right attitude toward the patient. Learning modules for AETCOM are spread over all the 4 years and are rightly planned to be implemented first.

While the AETCOM competencies have empathetic consideration of the patient as the base, there are enough reasons to move toward a full-fledged empathy-based medical curriculum. There has been worldwide attention to the central role of empathy in medical education.[3] The basic premise of the medical profession has empathy toward those suffering from some ailment. The basic reason why students (most, if not all) opt for the medical profession is the motivation to cure patients. However, there is realization that the process of medical education itself leads to loss of empathy since students are trained for the “left brain-dominant, linear, stepwise, analytical, and evidence-based knowledge.” Screening humanistic qualities (altruism, compassion) and assessing the Student's emotional intelligence quotient during the medical admission selection process have been mooted to ensure the quality of empathy in the would-be doctors.[4]

The value of empathy is taught implicitly, through personal example, by a physician during interactions with the patients. The manner in which the physician listens to the patient and addresses his/her concerns leaves an impression on the students who accompany him/her during rounds. Students who are empathetic by nature preserve and foster their own quality of empathy by seeing their teachers as role models.

The precious quality of empathy needs to be directed toward areas of patient care that the student finds to be intellectually interesting. Although the medical student needs to acquire various competencies in different subjects appropriate to the times, he or she should be given the opportunity to acquire the needed competencies in the subject that kindles his or her interest. Disregarding this self-determined interest, if the student is made to learn competencies as per a fixed schedule, it would not be conducive to the preservation and expression of the quality of empathy.

Taking a quantum view of medicine is a simple way of integrating the quality of empathy within the curriculum. Here, conventional medicine (with aspects of alternative medicine) is considered to have the components of body medicine, mind–body medicine, and mind–body–spirit medicine, which are understood to act simultaneously and independent of one another. Students can express the quality of empathy without compromising the academic approach for understanding and practice of medicine.[5]

There is need for considering the development of an empathy-based curriculum that allows the self-determined interest of students to express itself and avoids the rigorous expectations of a competence-based curriculum.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Medical Council of India. Competency Based Undergraduate Curriculum for The Indian Medical Graduate. Vol. 1. Medical Council of India; 2018. Available from: https://www.old.mciindia.org/UG-Curriculum/UG-Curriculum-Vol-I.pdf. [Last accessed on 2019 Feb 11].  Back to cited text no. 1
Medical Council of India: AETCOM Competencies for Indian Medical Graduate. https://www.old.mciindia.org/UG-Curriculum/AETCOM_book.pdf. [Last accessed on 2019 Feb 11].  Back to cited text no. 2
Pedersen R. Empathy development in medical education – A critical review. Med Teach 2010;32:593-600.  Back to cited text no. 3
Shelley BP. A value forgotten in doctoring: Empathy. Arch Med Health Sci 2015;3:169-73.  Back to cited text no. 4
  [Full text]  
Vijayaraghavan P. Quantum view of medicine and its implications. Int J Acad Med 2017;3:334-5. Available from: http://www.ijam-web.org/article.asp?issn=2455-5568;year=2017;volume=3;issue=2;spage=334;epage=335;aulast=Vijayaraghavan. [Last accessed on 2019 Feb 11].  Back to cited text no. 5


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