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.
- communication skills, philosophical ethics
- philosophy of the health professions
- quality of health care
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Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.