Empathy is one of those buzzwords that you will hear time and time again – so it’s essential you know what it is, how it differs from sympathy – and what it looks like in practice!
You might be asked about empathy in a number of ways, either directly or indirectly – these could be, ‘What do you understand by the term empathy?’ or ‘What qualities do you think are important in a good doctor and why?’.
1. Understand empathy and how it differs from sympathy
This is one which people are confused about. To sum up the difference: sympathy is defined as feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
This is another common place where people go wrong, simply using the word empathy as a buzzword is not going to be enough. Sometimes it is actually better to say ‘I can’t even begin to understand how difficult this is for you’ when dealing with a situation where you have no experience and that is a better display of empathy than feigning understanding. For example, you aren’t going to be understand how difficult it is to undergo a particular operation (unless you have done it yourself) but you can still recognise that it would be extremely difficult.
We see doctors, nurses and all manners of healthcare professionals demonstrating empathy all the time on the wards, in clinics and in the community. It is vital in developing rapport with your patients and is something you will develop over the course of your career, not overnight.
Here you could also draw on your work experience – for example, you might want to mention that empathy forms a vital role in building a sense of trust and respect in the doctor-patient relationship.