Letizia, Jessica. “Perceptions of Physician Empathy”, Boston College, 2014. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/3864.
Expressions of empathy are considered a core component of a physician’s treatment of their patients. It is imperative to the establishment of open communication, which aids in facilitating a good interpersonal relationship, exchanging information and making treatment-related decisions. Although empathy is widely viewed as essential, it is also commonly viewed as burdensome. We propose that empathy can be divided based on the characteristics in which we evaluate another’s mind. Previous research indicates that we attribute mental capacities based on two distinct dimensions: experience and agency, described as the capacity to feel and the capacity to act, respectively. By dividing physician empathy into an understanding of a patient’s feelings and an understanding of a patient’s goals, it may be possible to extract what we are assuming to be the emotionally taxing component by focusing just on the patient’s agency. 270 participants were surveyed regarding their opinions of their physician’s communication in an attempt to identify trends within demographic populations for preferences for goal-directed or emotional empathy. Results indicate significant effects of age, gender and combined income. As age and combined income increase, appreciation for agency-related communication decreases. Females also expressed significantly higher appreciation for an experience-related style of communication.