Empathy has been deeply ingrained as “must have” psychic gear for any healthcare practitioner. But have we gotten it wrong, and are we burning out AND making poor medical decisions in the process?

In this episode of Against Medical Advice, Tom, Logan, and I define and distinguish empathy and compassion, building a case against the former in favor of the latter. Based on the work of MIT psychologist Paul Bloom. Read about his work here and here.

Now available as #IncidentReport, a top-rated podcast in Science and Medicine on iTunes!

Please subscribe and review our podcast, it helps us grow the show!

Join the conversation in the comments on the original Facebook Live video:

  • Casey Chenier

    Thank you for putting this into words.

  • Polly

    Pity is the worst. Dispassionate interest works for me.

  • Gayle Cardoza

    Thank you for being the voice of so many healthcare workers. Please continue with the show! incredible work, Dr. Damania. Looking forward to next week!

  • Elizabeth Ann Ciccantelli

    I finally grasped what was said in this video today, and I found an article that may help to get everyone on the same page about this concept. When I was in nursing school, (1983) we were clearly advised to have strong boundaries between empathy and sympathy. I took it very seriously, and at the time was not into meditating, nor did I even really know what mindfulness was until years later when I entered school for massage therapy (1996). Between then, and today I have done a lot of meditation, but never heard compassion described as “mindfulness” until the article I going to post below, but what really saved me was the advise in nursing school because it helped me develop an association between professionalism, ethics, and a strong stance towards cognitive empathy when dealing with patients, but now, after seeing this video, it all goes a step beyond it all. Yes. Yes, and yes.

    Yes..so now I get it. I can say from 30 years of observation in the field that in nursing I see people more often falling into full blown sympathy, and especially because I work in the area of home health where we often care for the same patient and have to consider the entire support system and family unit that patient relies on for ADLs. We are often in the same home 40+ hours a week — some nurses for up to 10 and 15 years a shot, but average is about 3-7 years. I last an average of 18 months before it begins to get a little too close for my “empathy tolerance level” and just my own personal standards concerning ethics. It isn’t easy to leave, because attachment can’t be helped too often.

    Yea yea…I get it now.


    Anyway, here is the article.