It has, a handful of times, been my privilege to work with standardized patients (a/k/a medical actors) in programs involving medical students and law students. I have always been struck by the thoughtfulness of the actors involved in playing the standardized patients, often lingering after class to ask me for feedback on their performance.
Now comes Leslie Jamison with the title essay of her collection "The Empathy Exams" offering insight into her work as a medical actor, her life experiences as a medical patient, and her observations of those attempting to boost their empathy quotient. "The Empathy Exams" is exquisite.
One passage, where Leslie Jamison talks about empathy as a choice has stayed with me for days:
This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.
I do too, Leslie Jamison.