2013 - Sarah Baker, B.A., M.A.

Sarah Baker, B.A., M.A.Sarah Baker graduated December 2013, at the end of the fall term, with a Master of Arts in Medical Humanities.  Sarah was in the IMH's M.D./M.A. Program and she has now returned to complete medical school.  The title of her thesis was "Making Meaning of Empathy: A Qualitative Study of Empathy Education at UTMB."  The Chair of her thesis committee was Rebecca Hester, M.A., Ph.D.  Other members were Judith Rowan, M.D. and Kirk Smith, M.D./Ph.D.

E-mail:  sebaker@utmb.edu
Summary of Research
Empathy has been emphasized as part of a larger professionalism initiative nationwide in medical education and has been a contentious topic insofar as there has been much academic debate over its definition and application in clinical settings. While recent research has focused on quantification of student empathy and ways to improve empathy education, there has been little critical analysis of what the term means to students and factors influencing this meaning-making process. Students at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), an academic health science center in Galveston, Texas, are taught about empathy formally through the Practice of Medicine courses and informally through modeling by physicians and other students. They then adapt and mold the concept based upon their own needs, experiences and social environments. Using a qualitative constructivist paradigm with a focus on the social aspects of empathy, I will explore how the concept of empathy is defined and operationalized by medical students at UTMB who volunteer at a student-run free health clinic. Through participant- observation and interviews, I will explore both the rhetoric and the reality of empathy, as experienced by the students, in order to contribute to the critical evaluation of this frequently used term.
Sarah received her undergraduate degree from Rice University, where she majored in history.  Her undergraduate interests included the history of medicine and the social aspects of medical care.  She also did research on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children with developmental disabilities.  As an MD/MA student, Sarah hoped to develop a strong social and historical context to carry into clinical encounters with each unique patient she serves as a physician.  She also plans to continue her studies in the history of medicine, as well as pursue her interest in the ethical dilemmas of healthcare.

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