Doctors, Treatment

Empathy and Shared Experience Between Doctor & Patient

Can a doctor who has a headache disorder understand — and treat — your illness better than one who doesn’t? Is shared experience necessary for empathy?

“How could I possibly understand or help her, she seemed to be asking, if I had not personally experienced her pain?

“Her question caught me by surprise and made me pause. O.K., I’ll admit it. I’m a cheerful guy who’s never really tasted clinical depression. But along the way I think I’ve successfully treated many severely depressed patients.

“Is shared experience really necessary for a physician to understand or treat a patient? I wonder. After all, who would argue that a cardiologist would be more competent if he had had his own heart attack, or an oncologist more effective if he had had a brush with cancer?

“Of course, a patient might feel more comfortable with a physician who has had personal experience with his medical illness, but that alone wouldn’t guarantee understanding, much less good treatment.”

1 thought on “Empathy and Shared Experience Between Doctor & Patient”

  1. I don’t think a doctor has to share your experiences in order to be a good doctor. At the same time, first-hand knowledge can help with understanding and empathizing with a patient.

    I’ve had very good doctors and other healthcare workers who have rarely been ill. But I’ve had doctors who just can’t grasp the limitations and daily struggles that come with my illnesses, and they can be rather dismissive or even downright patronizing and rude.

    If anything, I think that doctors should have to go through some sort of “compassionate training” that help them at least understand where their patient is coming from.

    Great point. It really is about the ability to have compassion, isn’t it?


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