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Compassion vs Empathy

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by phunky, May 17, 2014.

  1. phunky

    phunky 2+ Year Member

    Nov 21, 2012
    I am curious to hear what people think about these two characteristics and their role in the doctor-patient relationship.

    I always hear the word "compassion" thrown around by premedical students as one of the most important traits of a doctor, but I feel like I hear the word "empathy" much less often. Recently I went to a lecture about empathy in medicine, and it got me thinking about the different meanings of these two words.

    It seems to me that empathy is the characteristic that doctor's should embody, because it fundamentally involves a connection between themselves and their patients. To be empathetic is to understand another person's suffering.

    Meanwhile, compassion involves feeling sympathetic for someone, but not actually putting yourself in their shoes. It's an emotion that comes from the ego rather than a true connection with another individual. It seems to me that compassion is much easier to feel than empathy.
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  3. ThisCouldBeYou


    Oct 27, 2013
    From my computer's dictionary:
    Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another. One may need to have a certain amount ofempathy before being able to experience accurate sympathy or compassion.

    Compassion is the feeling of empathy for others. Compassion is the emotion that we feel in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Compassion is often regarded as having an emotional aspect to it, though when based on cerebral notions such as fairness, justice and interdependence, it may be considered rational in nature and its application understood as an activity based on sound judgment.
  4. terp720

    terp720 2+ Year Member

    Jul 2, 2013
    Most people have not gone through the same things all of their patients have gone through, so, yes, I would think it is much easier to sympathize than empathize with their suffering, as you have not experienced it directly.

    The whole definitions thing is it's own issue though..
    Some say compassion includes a desire to relieve suffering. So don't think anyone's definition will be the same.
    Narmerguy likes this.
  5. phunky

    phunky 2+ Year Member

    Nov 21, 2012
    Those are pretty bad definitions imo. Here are the webster definitions.

    Compassion - a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.

    Empathy - the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings
    Narmerguy likes this.

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