Training: Papers‎ > ‎

(Riess 2012)

Title:  Empathy Training for Resident Physicians: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Neuroscience-Informed Curriculum
DOI or Website Link:  
Publication:  Journal of General Internal Medicine
  •  Riess, Helen, 
  • Kelley, John M., 
  • Bailey, Robert W.,
  •  Dunn, Emily J.,
  •  Phillips, Margot 
Date:   2 May 2012

Citation:  Riess, Helen, Kelley, John M., Bailey, Robert W., Dunn, Emily J., Phillips, MargotEmpathy Training for Resident Physicians: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Neuroscience-Informed Curriculum",  Journal of General Internal Medicine, Online First™, 2 May 2012

Riess H, Kelley JM, Bailey RW, Dunn EJ, Phillips M: Empathy training for resident physicians: a randomized controlled trial of a neuroscience-informed curriculum. J Gen Intern Med. 2012, 27: 1280-1286. 10.1007/s11606-012-2063-z.Google Scholar



Physician empathy is an essential attribute of the patient–physician relationship and is associated with better outcomes, greater patient safety and fewer malpractice claims.


We tested whether an innovative empathy training protocol grounded in neuroscience could improve physician empathy as rated by patients.


Randomized controlled trial.


We randomly assigned residents and fellows from surgery, medicine, anesthesiology, psychiatry, ophthalmology, and orthopedics (N = 99, 52% female, mean age 30.6 ± 3.6) to receive standard post-graduate medical education or education augmented with three 60-minute empathy training modules.

Main Measure

Patient ratings of physician empathy were assessed within one-month pre-training and between 1–2 months post-training with the use of the Consultation and Relational Empathy (CARE) measure. Each physician was rated by multiple patients (pre-mean = 4.6 ± 3.1; post-mean 4.9 ± 2.5), who were blinded to physician randomization. The primary outcome was change score on the patient-rated CARE.

Key Results

The empathy training group showed greater changes in patient-rated CARE scores than the control (difference 2.2; P = 0.04). Trained physicians also showed greater changes in knowledge of the neurobiology of empathy (difference 1.8; P < 0.001) and in ability to decode facial expressions of emotion (difference 1.9; P < 0.001).


A brief intervention grounded in the neurobiology of empathy significantly improved physician empathy as rated by patients, suggesting that the quality of care in medicine could be improved by integrating the neuroscience of empathy into medical education.

Topic Area:
 (In which field / sector / perspective was this study conducted?)

Definition(How was empathy defined?)

‘a process with both cognitive and affective components, which enables individuals to understand and respond to others’ emotional states and contributes to compassionate behavior and moral agency

Benefits(Were any benefits of empathy mentioned?)

Methods (What were the methods used to train empathy?)
  •  Expressive
  • Empathy-relational skills training focused on underlying neurobiology of empathy
Target Group:  (Who participated in this study / training?)
  • Otolaryngology residents

About the assessment: How was the change in empathy measured before/after the intervention/method?) 

(What was the result?)
  • Improved knowledge of neurobiology of empathy, self reported capacity to empathize, and patient satisfaction  (WEISZ 2016)*

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(Any other relevant information)