The role of empathy in dentistry
Alun Rees discusses how empathy is impacting and often contrasting with modern day dentistry.
‘It is as important to know what kind of a man has the disease, as it is to know what kind of disease has the man’ – Sir William Osler.
Osler was a Canadian physician, one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital.
He was famously the first to bring medical students out of the lecture hall for bedside clinical training.
Empathy’s defined as: ‘The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.’
Without doubt empathy’s an essential quality required for success in medicine and dentistry.
Dentistry’s supply of empathy
Sadly, empathy diminishes through the undergraduate training period.
Exposure to the hurly burly and daily challenges of clinical life, dealing with the financial and ethical pressures of dentistry doubtless exerts further pressure on our supply of empathy.
Keeping levels high and being aware of a drop is part of the balancing act of any professional life.
Modern marketing can increase reliance on transactional patients who apparently ‘just’ want elective, cosmetic procedures.
I have seen these described as the ‘low hanging fruit’ of 21st century dentistry.
This carries a risk of treating patients without fully knowing and understanding what motivates them.
A clinician with high levels of empathy is more likely to discover which patients are suitable for procedures and, more to the point, which ones are not.
The ability to say no to a patient because your antennae are picking up the wrong signals is more important to your wellbeing and satisfaction than delivering technical excellence on the wrong patient.
Contrast this with a young dentist who I met recently.
They said to me: ‘Empathy is important because it helps you to sell treatment plans‘.
It reminded me of Groucho Marx when he once said: ‘You need sincerity to be successful.
‘Once you can fake that you can fake anything!’