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MERA Abstract

Language medical students use to comfort patients through difficult discussions.


Zayna Qaissi, BA Candidate; Emily J Noonan, PhD, MA; Laura A. Weingartner, PhD, MS


Comforting communication supports patient satisfaction. Examining how medical students approach potentially sensitive topics can help educators identify strategies that improve the quality of care. The purpose of this study was to examine verbal approaches that student-physicians use to put patients at ease.


Seventy-five medical students were observed in standardized patient encounters. We assessed how students provided comfort by transcribing interview recordings and observing how students addressed the patients’ mental health, sexual history, and a death in the family.

All videotaped interviews were rated with a checklist based on the number of important medical aspects for each



Students used different strategies to put patients at ease. Students introduced the sexual history through other topics such as social history (50%) or told the patient directly that the sexual history will be discussed (26%). Many emphasized the importance of the sexual history to the patient’s health and normalized the discussion. Other students (44%) delved into the sexual history abruptly without transitioning. Discussing past mental health issues, students showed empathy by acknowledging health improvement, discussing feelings and concerns, acknowledging stress, or apologizing (31%) to the patient. Empathetic responses to a death in the patient’s family also included apologies (30%) or easing commentary, but most responses were filler words, such as “okay” and “wow” (54%).


This study identified approaches and gaps in the ways students ease patients to promote a smooth flow of information between the patient and the student Focusing on empathetic behaviors is important for enhancing patient care.

Publication Date

Spring 4-2021


Empathy; Medical Education; Patient Care; Verbal Responses; MERA


Medical Education

Language Medical Students Use to Comfort Patients Through Difficult Discussions