Fostering empathy in undergraduate health science majors through the reconciliation of objectivity and subjectivity: An integrated approach

Authors

  • Robert L. Dunbar,

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Learning Innovation, University of Minnesota Rochester, Rochester, Minnesota
    • Center for Learning Innovation, University of Minnesota Rochester, 300 University Square, 111 South Broadway, Rochester, MN 55904, USA
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  • Marcia D. Nichols

    1. Center for Learning Innovation, University of Minnesota Rochester, Rochester, Minnesota
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Abstract

The demand for empathetic health care practitioners requires an academic curriculum suited to that need. Here we describe a series of integrated activities that were designed to foster empathy in undergraduate health science majors. By combining content and pedagogical approaches from the humanities and sciences, we asked students to reconcile objective and subjective modes of understanding the human body as a learning object. Preliminary evaluations of student behavior, written student responses, and survey results are offered as support for our conclusion that the integration of a humanities perspective into the Anatomy classroom at University of Minnesota Rochester can facilitate the process of developing student empathy through the reconciliation of objective and subjective modes. Furthermore, students were able to apply this understanding to images on the page or screen, to living human learning objects and human cadavers. Although to claim that these activities in themselves can stymie the stasis/decline of empathy that health science students report would be patently false, we conclude that similar approaches could offer an avenue by which other educators might develop similar activities that, in aggregate, might have a lasting effect from the undergraduate through the graduate level of training in the health sciences. Anat Sci Educ. © 2012 American Association of Anatomists.

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