Studying Shakespeare ‘can help medical students connect with patients’

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William Shakespeare’s works should be built into the medical undergraduate curriculum to teach students how to connect more closely with their patients, suggests a physician.

Dr. David Jeffrey, a palliative care physician at the University of Edinburgh, is calling for more emotional connections in clinical practice to improve physician-patient interactions around the world.

Currently, doctors can distance themselves from patients and avoid emotions by focusing on biomedical facts – a process described as “distant concern.”

But doctors should demonstrably break through this emotional barrier for the benefit of their patients, possibly when suffering from dire illness, Dr. Jeffrey suggests.

Shakespeare’s clear appreciation for empathy – the ability to understand and share another’s feelings – as demonstrated by characters in his plays could help medical students master this skill, he says.

The English playwright, poet and actor William Shakespeare, depicted here in an illustration from Meyer's Lexicon, is widely regarded as the greatest playwright of all time.  He was also a master of empathy and had a `` sensitivity to psychological and social problems '' - so much so that trainee doctors had to read his works, Dr. David Jeffrey suggests.

The English playwright, poet and actor William Shakespeare, depicted here in an illustration from Meyer’s Lexicon, is widely regarded as the greatest playwright of all time. He was also a master of empathy and had a “ sensitivity to psychological and social problems ” – so much so that trainee doctors had to read his works, Dr. David Jeffrey suggests.

PLAY EMPATHY IN SHAKESPEARE

– ‘Expose yourself to feel what wretches feel’, King Lear Act III scene iii

– ‘Poor naked wretches, where are you, waiting for this brutal night to be pelted’, King Lear Act III scene iii

“Oh, I have suffered with those I saw suffer.” The Tempest Act I Scene ii

– “Speak what we feel, not what we should say.” King Lear Act V Scene iii

– ‘I’ll teach you differences’ King Lear Act I scene iv

Dr. Jeffrey’s argument is presented in a new scientific paper published Friday in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

Drawing on references from The Tempest, As You Like It and King Lear, he writes: ‘It is remarkable that Shakespeare’s work is still relevant today.

It seems he had the ability to anticipate our thoughts, especially in times of crisis.

Shakespeare’s signature gift is his empathetic approach – each of his characters speaking in their own voice, generating a story composed of multiple individual perspectives, while suppressing his own ego.

“A study of Shakespeare’s plays can be a creative way to reinforce empathetic approaches in medical students.”

Currently, there is a “deep-seated” theory among physicians that “emotions are disturbing” and should be kept under control.

This means that doctors sometimes distance themselves emotionally from patients – perhaps as a tactic to get the job done.

Currently, doctors can distance themselves from patients and avoid emotions by focusing on biomedical facts - a process described as 'distant concern'

Currently, doctors can distance themselves from patients and avoid emotions by focusing on biomedical facts - a process described as 'distant concern'

Currently, doctors can distance themselves from patients and avoid emotions by focusing on biomedical facts – a process described as ‘distant concern’

But a physician’s empathy toward his or her patient “can create a sense of security in situations of great uncertainty,” such as in end-of-life care, Dr. Jeffrey believes.

Dr.  David Jeffrey (poisoned) is a palliative care physician at the University of Edinburgh

Dr.  David Jeffrey (poisoned) is a palliative care physician at the University of Edinburgh

Dr. David Jeffrey (poisoned) is a palliative care physician at the University of Edinburgh

“I think doctors want to empathize with patients, but sometimes they are limited by lack of time and workload,” he told MailOnline.

Not only was Shakespeare able to view a situation from multiple points of view, but his understanding of empathy was deepened by his grief for his son, who died in 1596.

Shakespeare’s suffering increased the depth of his emotional expression, as shown in his later plays such as Macbeth and King Lear.

In his 1817 book Characters of Shakespear’s Plays, English essayist and literary critic William Hazlitt says that Shakespeare demonstrated the “greatest knowledge of mankind with the greatest sympathy for it.”

The playwright’s sensitivity to psychological and social concerns is related to the fact that he wrote before the scientific revolution in times of plague and religious unrest.

Dr. Jeffrey also compares Shakespeare’s time when plague was widespread to last year’s coronavirus pandemic.

King Lear was reportedly written while Shakespeare was quarantined during a plague outbreak and London’s original Globe theater closed.

Shakespeare's Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theater associated with William Shakespeare in the London Borough of Southwark.  The original theater was built in 1599

Shakespeare's Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theater associated with William Shakespeare in the London Borough of Southwark.  The original theater was built in 1599

Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theater associated with William Shakespeare in the London Borough of Southwark. The original theater was built in 1599

As the current pandemic appears to be drawing to a close, Dr. Jeffrey sees an era of more empathetic interactions between physician and patient.

“The recent Covid-19 pandemic, with the need for personal protection, social detachment and video conferencing, has created challenges in establishing empathetic relationships between patients and doctors,” he says.

Shakespeare speaks in times of crisis and underscores the central role of empathetic human relationships.

D.Jeffrey further explores empathy between physicians and patients in his book Empathy-Based Ethics: A Way to Practice Humane Medicine.

William Shakespeare: The playwright, poet, and actor whose reputation transcends all other writers

William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564 – died April 23, 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor widely believed to be the greatest playwright of all time.

The playwright continues to occupy a position unique in world literature as someone whose reputation transcends that of all other popular writers.

He is credited with producing 39 plays, 154 sonnets and three full-length poems.

His plays, of which Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello are the best known, have been translated into all major languages.

They are performed thousands of times a year by actors around the world and are studied by millions of students in the UK and elsewhere.

William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564 - died April 23, 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor widely believed to be the greatest playwright of all time

William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564 - died April 23, 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor widely believed to be the greatest playwright of all time

William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564 – died April 23, 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor widely believed to be the greatest playwright of all time

Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.

He married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18 and had three children with her: Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith.

Between 1585 and 1592, Shakespeare began a career in London as an actor and writer.

He co-owned a theater company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which later became known as the King’s Men.

They built the Globe Theater in Southwark, South London, where they performed many of Shakespeare’s plays.

The theater was destroyed by fire in 1613, but rebuilt the following year before closing in 1642 and then being demolished.

A modern reconstruction of the Globe called ‘Shakespeare’s Globe’ was built less than 250 meters from the site of the original theater and opened in 1997.

At the age of 49, Shakespeare is believed to have retired to Stratford before dying three years later.

However, there is little data on his personal life and much speculation about his exact physical appearance.

Some questions have also arisen as to whether all the works attributed to him were indeed written by others.