Empathy is about trying to understand someone else’s situation or experience as best as we can.

Do we in EMS truly understand empathy in healthcare? And do we empathize with ourselves and our colleagues?

While some say empathy comes from a proper upbringing, today’s decline in civility means we see less and less of it displayed.

A major contributing factor to the lack of empathy in healthcare is the tough exterior we favor in each other. How often have you heard comments such as:

  • “Come on, just suck it up buttercup.”
  • “You need to be tougher than that to be a medic.”

Why are we like this, and why can’t we reinforce the empathy that naturally resides in all of us?

Empathy in healthcare is a big part of our jobs, and we need to teach it to our students, our employees and each other. People need to feel that it’s OK to be empathetic and that it’s a natural part of the whole EMS picture.

One of the best techniques to foster empathy is active listening — not only to our patients but also to our staff and co-workers.

According to an article by Edutopia, to practice empathy you need to actively listen, or HEAR, which means:

Halt: Stop whatever else you are doing. End your internal dialogue on other thoughts so you can free your mind to give the speaker your attention. 

Engage: Focus on the speaker. We suggest a physical component, such as turning your head slightly so your right ear is toward the speaker as a reminder to be engaged solely in listening.

Anticipate: By looking forward to what the speaker has to say, you are acknowledging that you will likely learn something new and interesting. This will enhance your motivation to listen.

Replay: Think about what the speaker is saying. Analyze and paraphrase it in your mind or in discussion with the speaker and other classmates. Replaying and discussing the information you have heard will aid in understanding what the speaker is attempting to convey.

Always consider the other person’s point of view and try to understand what he or she is facing. It just might change your attitude and make you a better emergency provider.

Learn more about empathy in healthcare with these courses: