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Empowering Medical Students through Empathy and Design

We aim to solve the drop in empathy that 3rd year medical students experience, and by doing so, provide more compassionate care for patients

Photo of Jasmine M
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Studies have found that medical students experience a drop in empathy in their 3rd year. This is particularly concerning because the 3rd year is when medical students start interacting with patients through their clerkships. Through our interviews, we found that this drop in empathy can be attributed to the medical students feeling powerless, due to the work culture and hierarchy of hospitals, getting “put in my place” by doctors, and constant pressure from assessments. This drop in empathy can continue post-graduation, when they become doctors, which impacts patient care. To increase compassionate care, we believe it is crucial to first tackle this problem. To provide a solution, we are proposing a new curriculum to teach medical students Design Thinking. Our plan is to have 3rd year medical students learn Design Thinking principles through five projects centered around healthcare design: 1) patient storytelling, 2) incorporation of traditional medicine, 3) redesigning a patient's family’s experience, 4) improving doctor-patient interactions with patients suffering from mental health issues, and 5) redesigning the clerkship experience. We believe that these projects will allow students to be more aware and empathetic, as they will learn how to compassionately listen to patients. Furthermore, medical students will also have cross-culture experiences, which is important in delivering empathetic care. Projects 3 and 4 allow medical students to explore the full patient experience, which will help them understand what patients have to go through and the importance of other healthcare providers such as nurses and social workers. We hope that this will not only increase empathy in their interactions with patients, but also improve relations between doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers. Finally, the students’ solutions to the design challenges will be pitched to the hospital/medical school, making them feel empowered.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are third year medical school students who are studying at a medical school in the United States. More specifically, we want to first focus on third year medical school students who are studying at institutions in the New England area. The first beneficiaries would be the students at the Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, New Hampshire. Third year medical students would benefit from our idea because the third year is when students begin to lose their empathy, and our idea targets prevention of this issue during this crucial period. Furthermore, our research has been mainly conducted at Geisel, so our idea will be geared towards initially improving the experience there, and then perhaps expanding to other medical schools.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our idea is unique because it addresses the medical school experience through the lens of empathy and design. While there are some courses that are being incorporated into medical schools that are targeting the issue of empathy in medicine, these courses are mostly targeted towards improving communication while addressing grave situations. However, we feel that our solution is much more hands-on and experiential and could bring empathy to all stages of medicine, whether it is an interaction between doctors and medical school students or a quick checkup between a doctor and a patient. Our solution implements a teamwork aspect which creates an invaluable experience working with peers from different walks of life and increasing a student’s self awareness. It also serves to make medical students feel empowered throughout the process as they begin to create solutions to personal and real-world problems.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Initial Design: I am exploring the idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

We are human-centered students from Dartmouth College’s ENGS 12 course in Hanover, New Hampshire. ENGS 12 is a Design Thinking course that serves to approach problems from a design point of view, and Dartmouth College is our lovely Ivy League institution.

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we plan to register in the future.
  • Other

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

We had the perception that doctors wholeheartedly cared about every patient, but during a shadowing experience, the doctor simply went through a checklist of patients, sparing five minutes per patient, leaving them still grappling with unanswered questions before their surgeries. This experience reminded us of some of our own interactions with doctors, where the doctors have looked down upon our problems. After taking “Design Thinking,” we were empowered to use design to tackle this problem.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Healthcare is a universal need shared by all people regardless of race, age, religion, or other identifying attributes, as health is something that can severely impact a person’s life. Many patients in America have horrible patient experiences because of unempathetic doctors who do not understand their perspectives. One way to start bridging divisions in our society and promoting peace is to make those who are stigmatized and misunderstood feel cared for. Furthermore, we have seen how unempathetic care affects the livelihoods and prosperity of patients, as patients can lack the means to go to work or continue with their lives due to their illnesses. By targeting compassionate healthcare, we hope to be able to provide patients with a better healthcare experience so that they can continue with their lives more easily.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We will be working alongside various faculty and administration from Dartmouth College, including the Geisel School of Medicine’s doctors as well as professors from the Thayer School of Engineering. These individuals will help give us new insights as well as guide us through the process of designing solutions.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

3rd year medical students are the next generation of doctors. By targeting them, we can better prepare empathetic doctors who can then improve future healthcare practices. We want to first focus specifically on the community at Geisel because of the innovative environment. Geisel already has projects that creatively improve patients experiences in healthcare. This environment, one that is receptive to change, will help us be able to implement our idea more effectively.

Geographic Focus

Initially, we want to target the New England region of America, specifically Geisel.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

This will take 36 months to implement. We need this time period in order to come up with and agree to a standardized curriculum and project schedule through working with Geisel’s faculty and administration. Furthermore, after this stage of finalization, we will need to begin implementing it for the first wave of third year medical school students who will be part of this project.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Jesse Lindsley

Jasmine - I really like your idea! As entertainment and educational game developers, we work diligently to incorporate empathy design principles into our games. We have a really awesome non-profit partner, iThrive Games, that has helped us immensely in this area and they have recently produced an Empathy Design Guide and you can find it here: Good luck and please do not hesitate to reach out as we would be happy to help if we can.

Photo of Jasmine M

Hi Jesse, thank you for providing us with this resource...we'll definitely check out the Empathy Design Guide and reach out to you when we need help! Thanks!