Shakespeare can help doctors improve bedside manner

Shakespeare should be included in training for medical students so they can improve their empathy towards patients, according to research by the Royal Society of Medicine.

Reading the Bard’s plays could help doctors build a good rapport with their patients by improving their ability to understand and share feelings, scientists believe.

The global pandemic has made it more difficult for doctors to establish relationships with patients as they are inhibited by PPE, and social distancing measures mean most consultations are now done via video link.

Dr David Jeffrey, the study’s author, said: “Shakespeare speaks through times of crisis, underlining the centrality of empathetic human relationships.

“Medical humanities are often on the fringes of medical education but should be central to medicine culture change,” Dr Jeffrey argued.

“A special study module would be one way of introducing Shakespeare studies to the [medical] undergraduate curriculum.”

Dr Jeffrey used references from Shakespeare’s plays The TempestAs You Like It and King Lear to illustrate how the language promotes empathy – the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings.

Shakespeare's work is still relevant, the study's author said

Shakespeare’s work is still relevant, the study’s author said


In particular, the way Shakespeare depicts the world from other people’s point of view. Dr Jeffrey said: “It is remarkable that Shakespeare’s work remains relevant today.

“It seems that he had an ability to anticipate our thoughts, particularly in times of crisis.”

While doctors deal with death and illness on a daily basis, many people struggle to come to terms with it.

Getting medical students to read Shakespeare’s plays aloud would help create space for interpretation and reflection, Dr Jeffrey said.

The number of medical graduates in the UK has risen over the past 20 years, reaching 8,730 students in 2019.

Dr Jeffrey added: “Creating such a space for reflection is a central part of clinical practice and medical education.”

The findings were published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

William Shakespeare, considered by many to be the world’s greatest dramatist, is one of the most quoted authors of all time.

During his lifetime between 1564 and 1616, the Bard of Avon is said to have written at least 37 plays and collaborated on several more.

He also wrote four poems, and a collection of Sonnets, which was first published in 1609.

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