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Medical professionals are a community of highly educated individuals with a commitment to a core set of ideals and principles. This community provides both technical and ethical socialization. The ideal physician is confident, empathic, forthright, respectful, and thorough. These ideals allow us to define broadly “the excellence” of being a physician. At the core of these ideals is the ability to be empathic. Empathy exhibits itself in attributes of an individual's moral character and also in actions that actualize and support communal life. Empathy, however, can be diminished or even lost and must be nurtured on an ongoing basis. The development of ethical physicians is strongly linked to experiences in the training period. Moral traits are situation-sensitive psychological and behavioral dispositions. The clinical environment of medical training programs can be so intense as to lead to conditions that may actually deprofessionalize trainees. Creating a clinical environment that is ethically nurturing and sustaining is an indispensable component of practicing medicine.

Keywords: empathy; moral development; physician education; virtues

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Institute of Health PolicyMassachusetts General Hospital50 Staniford Street, Ninth FloorBoston, MA 02114617.270.6600, Email: 2: Harvard Divinity School45 Francis AvenueCambridge, MA 02138617.495.5742, Email:

Publication date: 2009-12-01

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