Monica Miller, Purdue University – Empathy

On Purdue University Week: Can you increase your empathy?

Monica Miller, clinical associate professor at Purdue University, explores whether you’re born with it or if it’s an ability you can learn.

​​Monica Miller, Pharm.D., M.Sc. is a Clinical Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice, at the Purdue University College of Pharmacy and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, at the Indiana University School of Medicine.  She received her PharmD from the University of Minnesota and completed a pharmacotherapy residency in conjunction with a master’s degree in pharmacy with an emphasis in health outcomes/infectious disease research at The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.  Dr. Miller’s primary practice site is with the Internal Medicine teams at the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital, where she serves as a preceptor for PharmD experiential students and Eskenazi Health pharmacy residents.  She also works within the award winning Purdue Kenya Partnership, Purdue University College of Pharmacy’s leading Global Health Program and consortium partner with the Academic Model Providing Access to Health Care (AMPATH).  Within the program, she co‐ coordinates the Purdue Global Health Residency. Monica also teaches several didactic courses in the PharmD curriculum and co‐coordinates the elective courses entitled: Pharmaceutical Care in Developing Countries, Preparing for Postgraduate Residency Training Program, Advanced Clinical Skills and From Apathy to Empathy.  She has a strong research interest in pharmacy education, professional development for students, and the development of sustainable care models for the underserved.

Empathy

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Empathy is defined as the ability to place oneself in another’s shoes. This ability allows for emotional connection with other people and an understanding of how they experience the world differently from you. This social skill is becoming more essential for graduates due to the increased globalization of many work environments. In the past, it was thought empathy was something people are just born with; however, recent research has demonstrated that in fact, empathy is an ability that can be learned by most people. In a recent Honors course I taught with fellow pharmacist and faculty member Ellen Schellhase, students made marked progress in developing empathy, which is a complex learning process because it requires several related skill sets. To have the ability to express empathy, we must also learn self-awareness, demonstrate curiosity of others, and practice openness and emotional regulation. In classes where empathy is being taught, students are often surveyed using one of several different empathy scales to identify their ability to empathize prior to class. This information is then used to inform the instructor of the individual needs and skills of each student, thus allowing course content and assignments to meet learners where they are. Empathy can be taught through role-playing activities or simulations coupled with reading, outside class work and reflections or debriefs. During the simulations, students will at some point play a cultural role that is different from their own. This is done very intentionally to help students gain more awareness of both themselves and others.  While simulations are valuable the key to developing empathy is actually the wrap up, which should be a guided reflection or debriefing. Research has identified that the act of reflecting on an activity, not simply participating in an activity, is what helps ensure continued development and growth of these skills.

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