How does medical education affect empathy and compassion in medical students? A meta-ethnography: BEME Guide No. 57

Background: Empathy and compassion are important in healthcare delivery, and are necessary qualities in medical students.

Aims: To explore medical students', patients' and educators' perceptions of what affects empathy and the expression of compassion; and to address gaps in knowledge, attitudes and skills on how education affects empathy and the expression of compassion in medical students.

Methods: The seven steps by Noblit and Hare were used for this meta-ethnography. Databases were searched for studies in English, published from 2007 to 2017 with outcomes of empathy and compassion. Key themes and concepts were identified, and accounts from the studies were used to build interpretations.

Findings: Thirty-three qualitative studies were included and four main themes were derived: seeing the patient as a person; appreciating the elements of empathy and compassion; navigating in the training environment; and being guided by ideals. Interactions between the patient, the medical student and training environment which affect the development of empathy and compassion are illustrated in a conceptual model.

Conclusions: This meta-ethnography extends our understanding of how medical education affects the expression of empathy and compassion in medical students. The results provide important considerations for medical educators and faculty developers in further developing and improving medical curricula.