The limits of empathy: Problems in medical education and practice

Anna Smajdor, Andrea Stöckl, Charlotte Salter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Empathy is commonly regarded as an essential attribute for doctors and there is a conviction that empathy must be taught to medical students. Yet it is not clear exactly what empathy is, from a philosophical or sociological point of view, or whether it can be taught. The meaning, role and relevance of empathy in medical education have tended to be unquestioningly assumed; there is a need to examine and contextualise these assumptions. This paper opens up that debate, arguing that 'empathy', as it is commonly understood, is neither necessary nor sufficient to guarantee good medical or ethical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-383
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Issue number6
Early online date2 Feb 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


  • Clinical Competence
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians
  • Students, Medical

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