Med student-patient buddies can boost empathetic care

To improve empathetic care, some medical schools are offering buddy programs that link medical students with Alzheimer's patients, and results show it is benefiting the students just as much as the patients.

Northwestern University Alzheimer's Disease Center developed its Buddy Program more than a decade ago to empower Alzheimer's patients. A presentation given at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Boston this July, however, reveals the medical students also are gaining from the experience, enhancing their knowledge and familiarity with the disease and bringing them greater sensitivity and empathy for those afflicted with it, reported American Medical News.

"It allows medical students to have a nonclinical experience. It allows them to get to know someone with an illness," said Darby Morhardt, research associate professor in cognitive neurology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in the article. "They see a person within a context, and they see that there is more to them than their disease."

Over the years, 167 medical students have been matched with buddies. One student wrote of the experience, "I feel like my interactions with [my mentor] are becoming more fluid as I begin to ask fewer complex questions and incorporate his viewpoint into my own speech. I also feel more comfortable 'jumping in' when [my mentor] struggles too long with a word or sentence without threatening his independence. I understand so much more about [my mentor's] experience than I could even imagine before we met."

These types of programs are especially important in light of recent reports that medical school curriculum is hurting empathetic care. Empathy and moral reasoning begin to erode during the third year of medical school, with students daily witnessing both patients and doctors experience fear, anger, grief and humiliation, Danielle Ofri, M.D., Ph.D., wrote last month in Slate.

As FierceHealthcare has previously reported, research shows more empathetic physicians achieve better clinical outcomes. With that in mind, hospitals including the Cleveland Clinic are making empathy an important part of patient experience efforts and quality initiatives.

To learn more:
- read the amednews article

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