How do you make a young doctor really understand what it’s like being 74? Virtual reality.
This is the theme of We Are Alfred. (See the full story and video here.) Young doctors experience a simulation of everyday events in the life of Alfred, a hypothetical older person with several sensory deficits. For instance, in the birthday party shown above, the participant experiences the effects of macular degeneration – and feels the disturbing emotional disconnections that come with it.
This project is a promising first step in developing empathy. Doctors become more sensitive to what is actually happening, and are in a much better position to help. Rather than jumping to conclusions about cognitive deficits or psychiatric disorders, they can begin to have real dialogue.
Still, much of medical education is designed to suppress empathy, so that doctors will be clinical and “objective.” Leading medical schools are slowly changing this attitude and ensuring that young doctors understand the need to engage with people. Our second story, an article in The Atlantic , describes a project at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Before dissecting a cadaver, first-year med students are invited to meet the surviving family members. The story concludes:
Lunch was served sometime during the story and empty plates were cleared before the family finished their biography. When the story caught up with the present—ending with the donor willing her body to OU College of Medicine—the students sat for a moment in silence. “It was humbling,” Thurman recalled, “to think she was our first teacher.”