COMET 2016 presentation

Impact: Social Impacts


It is widely recognized that the ability to empathise with patients is an important professional skill for doctors.

Although evidence shows that empathic skills can, to some extent, be taught, it is clear that medical students who have difficulties expressing empathy struggle to qualify as doctors and may be more likely to be the subject of complaints to the General Medical Council after qualification.

Lack of validated tool to assess applicants’ empathic skills as part of the admissions interviewing process.
Use a linguistic (discourse-pragmatic) approach to design an empathy-specific entry test for applicants to medical schools, to be used within a Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) station.

Providing applicants with a realistic non-clinical context in which a variety of empathic speech acts would be appropriate and check to what extent they are able to formulate them without explicitly being told to show empathy.

Study illustrates theoretical and practical validity of conceptualizing the verbal expression of empathy in terms of core empathic speech acts that may be expressed through a variety of formulations.

Study confirms Sulzer et al. (2016)’s observations that one-fits-all empathy scales are problematic and that context-specific behavioural (including verbal) dimensions need to be taken into account.

Study sets the basis for the identification of non-verbal expressions of empathy (excluding touch).

All three test versions could be successfully adapted to be used in the context of an entry interviewing process at medical (or other educational or professional) institutions: strengths and weaknesses.

Although examiners’ rating still subjective, the new test is an improvement on the current station because it assesses the applicants’ ability to perform empathy through specific verbal behaviour

Improvement on current situational judgment tests (SJTs) because targeting one performance aspect only (Patterson et al. 2012): empathic communication.

Framework may be adapted more widely to support student and staff selection and training in variety of health educational and professional contexts.

Existing measures used in a medical context rely on self-assessment and assume familiarity with a medical consultation
Impact statusOpen
Category of impactSocial Impacts
Impact levelBenefit


  • empathy; test; admission; medical schools