Empathy vs Sympathy In Healthcare

​Over the last twenty five years I’ve learned how to separate empathy for patients and having sympathy for their situations .   Exactly what are the two and how are they different ?

Wikipedia defines Empathy as the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

Sympathy is the perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another life form.

As a professional respiratory therapist I’ve learned over the years how to separate the two feelings.

As a new graduate working in the hospital I was overwhelmed with these two emotions.  Seeing patients who are suffering on a daily basis is exhausting .   You want to wave a magic wand and make their pain and sickness go away.  Seeing there families every day and watching there facial expressions makes sympathy easy.  It’s learning to separate the two that becomes difficult . 

In an article by Pennsylvania College titled 

Sympathy vs. Empathy: Where is the Line for Health Care Workers?


The author explains empathy in a very simple way.

Empathy takes it to a whole other level. With empathy, you are not just caring about someone else’s struggle; you are taking it on as well. You are sharing in someone’s pain as though it was your own. The ability to empathize with someone is important, but it doesn’t always have a place for everyone working in health care. Empathy can be extremely draining emotionally, which can take away from your ability to carry out your duties in a hospital or other health care environment.


Which one do you choose ? 

I can’t answer that question for you only you can. 

 As you settle into your career choice these two feelings will start to become more clearer. It’s human nature to feel sorry for those in need.  Determining how to distance one’s self from the feelings to complete the job at hand comes with practice.

Have you had an experience where you had to choose between empathy and sympathy ?   Please share.

Gain The Advantage,

Alicia Osmera 


 

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