A pretty extensive review of research which has looked at empathy in medical students and young doctors concludes that
empathy declines during medical school and residency compromises striving toward professionalism and may threaten health care quality. Theory-based investigations of the factors that contribute to empathy decline among trainees and improvement of the validity of self-assessment methods are necessary for further research.
(How often do you read a paper by researchers which doesn’t conclude that there should be more research!). This is a sad, but also dangerous finding. Sad because there’s something desperately wrong with medical education and training if empathy declines as a result of it, and dangerous because without empathy “quality”, and I’d argue, “safety” are under threat.
Meanwhile, Vaughn Bell, across on the Mindhacks blog doesn’t only highlight this study under a title of “Is medical school an empathotoxin?”, but he has a useful collection of links to other research which shows the importance of empathy in medical practice.