Educating Medical Students to Appreciate the Value of Life: Implementing Practices for Teaching Empathy at the Medical University Level

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Purpose: The aim of this study was to assess our teaching the value and meaning of life to our freshman medical students before they received their medical education, using a two stage approach known as ”Life Gardener.” Methods: We prospectively recruited 165 Year-1 medical students. In the first stage (”Sapling Care Operations”), which started at the beginning of the semester, students looked after a small flowering houseplant commonly known as the ”African violet” for sixteen weeks. The purpose of the care process was to inspire students to observe the life and death struggle and to contemplate factors affecting quality of care. In the second phase (”Empathy Patient Care Operations”), which started at the end of the semester, students who completed 10 hours of empathy skills training were assigned to one of our three affiliated hospitals to experience how to care for patients. Results: We identified five items of self-reflection (observations of life, self insight and emotional response to providing care, clarification of attitudes toward the care of living creatures, inner thoughts on the future as a medical professional, and use of resources to understand life) in stage I and three areas of concern in response to these triggers (the development of empathic responses, initial thoughts on communication with others, and development of a holistic view of care) in stage II identified from students' records and feedback. The feedback of ten participants was quoted as evidence supporting the goal and learning process of the project. Conclusion: The results showed that our approach taught students to appreciate the value of life, a lesson that would help them in their future medical career.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-350
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011



  • active-learning
  • empathy
  • medical education
  • self-introspection

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