Centre launches to put empathy at the heart of healthcare

Categories: Care and Research.

The role empathy plays in helping to improve patient satisfaction and reduce their pain is at the heart of a new healthcare research centre at the University of Leicester.

The Stoneygate Centre for Empathic Healthcare’s mission is to improve patients’ lives by pioneering a robust new approach to medical education and training that positions empathy at the heart of healthcare, fostering health and care services that are fit for the future.

Established in summer 2022 and set for an official launch on Wednesday 26 April, the centre is the first of its kind in the UK and aims to provide the NHS with the most emphatic and resilient junior doctors possible.

Empathy is a core value in healthcare delivery, known to reduce pain experienced by patients, improve their satisfaction with care, and protect against doctor burnout. Yet levels of empathy in medical students declines significantly as their training progresses.

While it’s less than a year old, the centre is already producing research around a lack of empathy in healthcare, and possible solutions. Centre Director, Professor Jeremy Howick, is the lead author of a new study published in BMC Medical Education [LINK], which is the first to demonstrate systematically why empathy declines during medical training and raises important questions about the fitness of medical education.

Back in the autumn, another centre research project linking diversity with empathy demonstrated why the University’s medical school is the optimal location to house a centre for empathic healthcare, as Prof Howick explains.

He said: “Our research called for health professionals to embrace the benefits of diversity to exercise their ‘empathy muscle’.

“Leicester is the perfect place to study the positive elements of diversity, as it’s one of the most diverse cities in the UK. The University’s medical school, meanwhile, also benefits from a very diverse make-up of students and staff. In addition, the foundation year, which feeds the medical school, is almost exclusively composed of students from underprivileged and often diverse backgrounds.

“Therefore, Leicester Medical School is the very best location to house a Centre for Empathic Healthcare.”

Co-funded by the University and The Stoneygate Trust, the £10m centre will provide the resources required to embed empathy into the core of Leicester’s Medical School curriculum, and then expand it across the UK and beyond.

It will build on the empathy curriculum delivered to Leicester Medical School’s Foundation Year students, also supported by the Stoneygate Trust. The training is planned to include inviting students to experience healthcare first hand – for example, through spending the night as a patient – to extending and enhancing the use of expert patients and scenario-based learning with actors.

The Stoneygate Trust is a charity established in 2007 by Sir Will and Lady Nadine Adderley, with a particular focus on medical research and helping to support equal educational opportunities for economically disadvantaged children and students.

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