A Prescription for Empathy
Dr. Brian Goldman
t a medical centre just outside
Quebec City, Dr. Brian Goldman
was about to have his first
functional MRI (fMRI) brain
scan. He grabbed a joystick to get ready.
For his test, Dr. Goldman would be looking
at dozens of photos of various individuals,
studying their expressions. Within four
seconds, he had to use the joystick to
move a cursor along a line representing
By Stuart Foxman
how much pain he thought the person
in the photo was feeling.
Later, a researcher would examine the scan
to see what happened to Dr. Goldman’s cin-
gulate cortex and insula, which light up when
you see someone in severe pain. This was part
of a study measuring empathy in health-care
professionals compared to a group of lay
people. Dr. Goldman was one of the first test
His trip to the clinic was part of a larger
journey that Dr. Goldman undertook for
his latest book, called The Power of Kindness:
Why Empathy is Essential in Everyday Life. Dr.
Goldman (doctorbriangoldman.com) is an
ER physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in To-
ronto, and the host of the CBC Radio show
White Coat, Black Art.
He calls empathy “the ability to use your
imagination to see things from the point of
view of another person, and to use that per-
spective to guide your behaviour.”
That’s a clinical skill in medicine (and a life
skill). Providing care also means showing care.
What are the patient’s hopes, fears, desires,
concerns and anxieties? When people com-
ISSUE 3, 2018 DIALOGUE