Approaches to teaching human empathy

Exploring the understanding and development of human empathy in undergraduate veterinary students and nursing students and postgraduate healthcare practitioners to enhance approaches to learning and teaching of empathy

Team Members :  Kirsty Hughes, Eva Joanna Alexjuk, Jessie Paterson, Rachel Whittington, Stacy Spielman


Aims: The aim of this project is to explore the experience and understanding of human empathy of veterinary and nursing students and practicing health care professionals as well as their perceptions of how the subject is covered in their curricula. It is hoped the results will help us to better understand how to teach and facilitate development and expression of empathy to human patients/clients in students and practitioners in caring professions. There is some suggestion that rates of empathy in healthcare students and practitioners decrease over time during training and practice. If levels of empathy do indeed decline or in some way fluctuate during students’ studies this is a concern for educators whose goal it is to train students to be both competent and compassionate practitioners in their working life.

Methodology: In this study, students on veterinary and healthcare degrees will be interviewed to collect rich data on their understanding and experiences of empathy in their lives and practice, as well as in their learning environments. Students will be asked about the conditions that encourage them to engage empathically in their practice and what if anything inhibits them from doing so. One to one interviews will identify key experiences that have been influential in the students’ understanding of empathy towards people and their experiencing and demonstrating of empathy. The emergent themes from the data will be used to inform teaching practices to help educators to foster empathic practice in students as well as to develop future research in this area.

Final Project Report

Final  project report may be downloaded from here.