Health worker´s empathy and their power to change the world

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Pedro Barbosa, a student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) since 2019, currently attending the 4th period. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) health means “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Certainly, this is far beyond what a medical student or even a long time graduated physician should know to be seen as a good doctor. This problem can be explained by the medical society conformity that reinforces the stereotype of the “wise”, “protected” and “overpowered” doctor, ready to do a “favor” to his patient and save them from a suffering disease (but most of the time it makes them suffer from the treatment).

The fact is that we, physicians and students, know almost nothing about humans. We are specialists in cells, tissues, organs and drugs. What about naming all gut epithelium´s cells? Child’s play! The problem is that understanding humanity, the real essence of our existence, is far away from our abilities.

So, I answer our question, what future health workers should do to contribute in order to achieve the sustainable development goals for 2030? We must be empathetic and practice the real art of medicine, human care. Physicians have the great opportunity to know and understand people, we are daily exposed to life stories, not only diseases, in other words our worry should be understanding how their family, neighborhood, food, education, happiness… influence their health. According to what Dahlgren and Whitehead proposed in 1991, which they called Social Determinants of Health, a theory we should know by heart for our practice, however most of us simply ignore it.

To meet the purpose of  solving the problematics, one characteristic of the old white coat doctor ideia is well usable: confidence. People feel comfortable and even cared while telling their life secrets to us. During my anamnesis practice I had the opportunity to know and understand many different people who lived in the same city as I, but had several different lives from me. I really expect that this pure and innocent feeling called empathy I once had won’t cease after a few times from now.

Thereby, after being empathetic, humble, and able to recognize people’s sickness (which must surpass their physiological disorders), health workers will have enough to fight. By then, we are entering a war to defend people’s rights, bearing part of their sorrow and taking a piece of their cause. This is our real job, providing health, which includes denunciating these illnesses and asking for authorities to make sure rights are being respected.

To sum up, along these lines we will be capable of identifying the lack of education, food, potable water, equality, and plenty of barriers that will make it difficult for the world to achieve the sustainable development goals for 2030, just by understanding humans. So that, through this way, health workers will alert society and its authorities, contributing to a better humanity for all.

About the author

Pedro Barbosa is a student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) since 2019, currently attending the 4th period. He has been part of IFMSA Brazil UFRJ since 2020 and at-present holds the position of Local Exchange Officer. In addition, Pedro works in a line of scientific initiation research about colorectal cancer stem cells.


  1. Thanks for sharing such a great article with us. I hope you share

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