Empathy Learning in the Medical-Patient Relationship: a Qualitative Look Among Internship Students of Medical Schools in the Northeast of Brazil

ABSTRACT Empathy is an attribute of the clinical act, of fundamental importance for the establishment of a good doctor-patient relationship. Medical undergraduate courses should guide the students’ training, with the purpose of developing skills that favor the qualification of a decisive professional and able to understand the importance of teamwork. This study aims to analyze the learning of empathy in undergraduate students of medical courses from public universities in the Northeast of Brazil, which are in their last year of medical internship. In order to do so, we sought to understand these students’ empathy conceptions, to know how the learning for an empathic attitude during medical training occurred and to identify how to improve this learning. A qualitative methodology was used, and focal groups were used with students from two different universities, whose speeches were submitted to a thematic analysis, which tried to apprehend the conceptions of empathy, its learning during undergraduate school and the suggestions for the improvement of its teaching / learning. The results pointed out that students do not recognize or identify relevant teaching moments during their training in relation to the learning of empathy and, when mentioned, they associate it more to theory than to medical practice. They emphasize that the methodology used is not very stimulating and that teachers lack training. They also request an institutional look at their mental health. There were no significant differences between the gender and the age of the students regarding the empathic disposition. It is concluded that this research confirmed the initial assumption: that the medical undergraduate course, in general, has not adequately prepared students for the practice of empathy in the doctor-patient relationship. For these students, the “capacity to put oneself in the other’s shoes” stands out as difficult, thus strengthening the need for a more careful look at the training scenario in order to intervene more adequately to increase the learning of the empathy component.