Empathy and Compassion – a research theme

The Birgit Rausing Centre for Medical Humanities creates conditions for conducting, coordinating, and inspiring interdisciplinary research in the medical humanities. Our focus is on the good interpersonal relationship between patient and health care professionals.

The concepts of empathy and compassion are central by virtue of their importance to both the patient and the one(s) caring for him/her. By studying how empathy and compassion can be strengthened and how the impact of negative factors can be reduced, we intend to systematically build a clear national and international research profile.

During 2021 and 2022, we’ve pursued the research theme within a so called Advanced Study Group at the Pufendorf Institute at Lund University:

“Enhancing empathy and compassion in healthcare students and professionals”.

Relationships between individuals are the fabric of human civilization. The quality of relationships depends on empathy and compassion. These abilities are also crucial to professions and institutions that are foundational to modern society. In healthcare, compassionate care improves clinical outcomes for individual patients. Importantly, it also increases well-being of healthcare professionals and reduces their risk of burnout.

Compassion for the “other” is, in addition, a guarantor of equal healthcare for all. It would therefore be highly beneficial to individuals, professionals and society in general if empathy and compassion could be efficiently, reliably and meaningfully enhanced by training.

This is currently not the case. In fact, the complexity of empathy and compassion makes these concepts elusive even theoretically, and definitions and operationalisations across and within many studies are inconsistent. Our aim is to explore the conceptual and practical challenges associated with developing efficient, evidence-based tools to enhance empathy and compassion.

April 27, 2023

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