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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Frans Derksen

The Importance of Empathy In
Healthcare and Physician Training

Frans Derksen




Frans Derksen is a Dutch retired Medical Doctor and has a PhD in Empathy in Patient and Physician communication. In this discussion, Frans shares his research on the importance and effectiveness of empathy in healthcare. His conclusion is that specific education about the theory, evidence of empathy and training of specific empathic skills, should be explicitly taught to medial students and residence.  Edwin talks about the effectiveness and application of Empathy Circles as a foundational empathy building practice.


 More explicit attention needs to be paid to empathy in physician training by embedding theoretical education, explicit attention to skill training and assessment of empathic behavior by patients and supervisors.




The Importance of Empathy In Healthcare and Physician Training

Frans Derksen and  Edwin Rutsch







Papers by Frans Derksen


2013: Effectiveness of empathy in general practice: A systematic review

  • Empathy as a characteristic of patient-physician communication in both general practice and clinical care is considered to be the backbone of the patient-physician relationship. Although the value of empathy is seldom debated, its effectiveness is little discussed in general practice. This literature review explores the effectiveness of empathy in general practice. 

2014: Empathy: What does it mean for GPs?: A qualitative study

  • Research has highlighted empathy as an important and effective factor in patient-physician communication. GPs have extensive practical experience with empathy. However, little is known about the personal views of GPs regarding the meaning and application of empathy in daily practice.

2016:  Managing barriers to empathy in the clinical encounter: A qualitative interview study with GPs

  • Background: Current daily general practice has become increasingly technical and somatically oriented (where attention to patients' feelings is decreased) due to an increase in protocol-based guidelines. Priorities in GP-patient communication have shifted from a focus on listening and empathy to task-oriented communication.

2016: Consequences of the presence and absence of empathy during consultations in primary care: A focus group study with patients

  • There is general consensus that explicit expression of empathy in patient-GP communication is highly valued. Yet, little is known so far about patients' personal experiences with and expectations of empathy. Insight into these experiences and expectations can help to achieve more person-centeredness in GP practice care.

2016: Maintaining empathy in increasingly guideline-driven general practice settings

  • Data recently published in the British Journal of General Practice offered solutions for general practitioners struggling to find a balance between “task-oriented communication” with patients and showing empathy and listening.


2018: Empathy in general practice—the gap between wishes and reality: comparing the views of patients and physicians

  • Empathy is regarded by patients and general practitioners (GPs) as fundamental in patient–GP communication. Patients do not always experience empathy and GPs encounter circumstances which hamper applying it.

In Press: Clinical empathy in GP-training: Experiences and needs among Dutch GP-trainees. “Empathy as an element of personal growth”

  • Clinical empathy has been described as a key component of effective person-centeredness in patient-physician communication. Yet little is known about general practitioner (GP) trainees' experiences and opinions regarding clinical empathy, empathy-education and the development of empathic skills. This study aimed to explore trainees' experiences with clinical empathy during GP training.

Current Dutch textbook for residents about many aspects of empathy.