The medical student as patient navigator as an approach to teaching empathy

Ronda Henry-Tillman, Linda A. Deloney, Mildred Savidge, C. James Graham, V. Suzanne Klimberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Background: When empathy was presented in a lecture, medical students did not appreciate the topic or have opportunities to practice empathic techniques. The Patient Navigator Project was designed to foster understanding of a patient's experiences and encourage empathic communication. Methods: The project uses experiential learning in an outpatient setting in the first year of training. Each student was to "shadow" a patient during a visit to a surgical oncologist and could observe the patient throughout treatment. Patient consent was obtained. Assignments were made before the appointments. Afterward, students met in small groups to reflect on their experiences. Results: Patients were willing to let medical students observe their care. Most students reported a positive learning experience and that they learned to see patients as people, not as numbers or diseases. Conclusions: Requiring individualized patient-centered activities in the preclinical curriculum is challenging owing to the large number of students and the unpredictable nature of patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)659-662
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Empathy
  • Experiential learning
  • Humanism
  • Medical education
  • Medical students
  • Patient-physician relationship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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