Letters to the Editor
Dr. Weissman brings up an important point when he argues that studies are needed to assess the empathy levels of faculty as well as those of trainees. Otherwise, it is difficult or impossible to know whether the trainees' decline in empathic capacity is a learning issue or an issue related to modeling their interactions with patients on those of the faculty. Nevertheless, in our review, we discussed possible negative influences of inadequate role models and the topic of students' mistreatment by superiors and mentors as possible reasons for empathy decline; both statements support very well Dr. Weissman's comment about the influence of faculty on students' empathy and his request for further research.
Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory1 also supports Dr. Weissman's views as well as our own, as that theory posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. In the context of Bandura's theory, it would be worthwhile not only to evaluate the emulation impact of faculty members' (empathic) behavior on students' empathy, but also to learn whether students' abilities to make independent judgments and engage in self-reflection and critical thinking are fostered by the medical faculty, as these abilities seem to be important moderating variables preventing an unconscious and not-reflected-upon imitation of nonempathic faculty behavior.
Melanie Neumann, PhD
Senior researcher, University of Witten/Herdecke, Faculty of Health, Witten, Germany; Melanie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friedrich Edelhäuser, MD
Senior researcher, University of Witten/Herdecke, Faculty of Health, Witten, Germany, and Department for Early Rehabilitation, Gemeinschaftskrankenhaus, Herdecke, Germany.
Christian Scheffer, MD, MME
Senior researcher, University of Witten/Herdecke, Faculty of Health, Witten, Germany, and Clinical Education Ward for Integrative Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Gemeinschaftskrankenhaus, Herdecke, Germany.
1. Bandura A. Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: W.H. Freeman; 1997.