The Difference Between Empathy & Sympathy

Many people are drawn to a health care career because they naturally care about others. It can be very rewarding to be there for someone during the time of greatest need .

For those who are caretakers and nurturers by nature, it can be very easy to become emotionally invested in the pain and suffering of your patients.

But there’s a difference between sympathy and empathy, and understanding the appropriate time and place for each will help you be more effective, whether you pursue an associate’s in nursing, choose to become a respiratory therapist or something entirely different.

The Basics of Emotional Reactions

It’s very normal and healthy to feel upset when others are in pain. These feelings usually manifest themselves as pity, empathy and sympathy.

Pity is the most distant reaction to hearing about another person’s distress. Pity implies that the person is helpless and makes no effort to help them improve his or her situation.

The Role of Sympathy

It’s hard not to show sympathy for someone in pain if you are a generally caring and compassionate person. Sympathy shows that you’re making an effort to care and that you do genuinely want the other person to feel better.

The feeling of sympathy is what makes you able to say the most appropriate things to someone who is suffering. For example, you might tell a patient you know what they’re going through is difficult, but because your feelings are more abstract, the other person may not feel like you really “get it.”

The Role of Empathy

Empathy is another reaction to seeing others in pain, but it requires active listening and reliving personal moments. Empathizing with someone means you are able to put yourself in his or her shoes and imagine what they are feeling.

Sometimes you are able to do this because you have actually experienced what the other person is going through, which makes you very relatable. Whereas sympathy is an appropriate and acceptable acknowledgement that someone is suffering, empathy builds a connection with that person.

Being empathetic is non-judgmental and requires you to set aside your own concerns as you try to understand the mindset and emotions of another person. When we are motivated by empathy, it makes us much more effective in a health care career.

Research shows that empathetic communication from physicians leads to greater patient satisfaction. As a partner in the health care process, your empathy can also improve your patients’ experiences.

Appropriate Reactions in Health Care Career

As a person in a health care career, it can be very easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of pain you witness every day.

Finding a balance between appropriate empathy and not allowing it to consume you is a challenge that takes time and discipline to develop.

When your natural desire to help people is leading you to a health care career, you’ll get the right start at Concorde.

health care career college

Follow Concorde on Social Media

Davina Thomas-Clark | Medical Assistant, Vocational Nurse graduate

“I have taken the MA program and the LVN program. Concorde is a wonderful school. There is a difference between passion and a paycheck, and most of my instructors had a passion for what they do. The program was challenging but well worth it. I love this college!”

Andrea Nolan | Dental Assistant graduate

“Knowing I could be working as a Dental Assistant in eight months was crazy to me! I loved going to class and would drive an hour there every day. I’m truly happy that I took the step to go to Concorde. It was the best thing I have done for my family.”

James Harkins | Nursing Graduate

“What I liked about Concorde was that there was nothing flashy. They were very up front, very simple, answered all my questions. They were more concerned with my education than tuition.”

Allison Hamm | Dental Assistant graduate

“I enjoyed every second of my time at Concorde. I learned so much in a short amount of time. I spent my extern at Forney Modern Dentistry in Forney, Texas and was hired on immediately. I have now been there for almost four years. I recently was promoted to Pediatric Manager at our Garland location. I give all the credit to this amazing school and my great experience there.”

Christine Mejia | Surgical Technology Graduate

“There was good simulation, real instruments and a lot of one-on-one instruction. I loved the lab, and I had a great instructor who is also a surgical technician.”