Humanising medical practice: the role of empathy

Marion Lustig
Med J Aust 2008; 188 (4): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2008.tb01611.x
Published online: 18 February 2008

To the Editor: I congratulate Haslam on his excellent overview of the role of empathy in medicine.1 He rightly reminds us that empathy is not vague or ill defined; rather, its presence improves clinical outcomes, and it can be both learned and lost. I would go further and argue that empathy is not an optional extra but a clinical competence essential for sound medical practice, no matter what our specialty. All clinical practice requires a doctor–patient relationship, the core skill of which is empathy.

  • 1 Department of Psychological Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 2 Balint Society of Australia, Melbourne, VIC.


  • 1. Haslam N. Humanising medical practice: the role of empathy [editorial]. Med J Aust 2007; 187: 381-382. <MJA full text>
  • 2. Balint M. The doctor, his patient, and the illness. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1986.
  • 3. Rosin U. [Balint groups: concepts, research and results] [German]. Volume 3 in the series: Heigl-Evers A, editor. The Balint group. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer, 1989.
  • 4. Köhle K, Obliers R, Koerfer A, et al. [Evaluation of the developmental effects of a Balint group: a multimethod approach] [German]. Psychosom Psychosozial Med 1995; 1: 6-16.
  • 5. Kjeldmand D, Holmström I, Rosenqvist U. Balint training makes GPs thrive better in their job. Patient Educ Couns 2004; 55: 230-235.
  • 6. Mandel A, Maoz B, Berger M, Narde Y. An evaluation of Balint and Balint-like groups. Proceedings of the 12th International Balint Congress; 2001 Oct 3-7; Portoroz, Slovenia.


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