The Balint group experience for medical students: a pilot project
Loss of empathy has been reported in medical students as they move through the clinical phases of their training. Several researchers have attempted to address this issue by exploring ways of heightening students' awareness of the emotional, non-biomedical aspects of illness and the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship, using a variety of reflective group discussion methods. This pilot project employed the specific group method developed by Michael Balint for general practitioners working in London after the Second World War. The pilot was based on one group of six third-year graduate students, meeting weekly over six weeks. Evaluation includes pre- and post-questionnaires, a 1000-word essay and leaders' observations. The results suggest that the traditional Balint method needs to be modified for students at a point in their training where they have not yet been exposed to patients for long enough to develop meaningful patient relationships. Nevertheless, there was some evidence of a heightened awareness of the dynamics of doctor-patient relationships and the importance of psychological/emotional factors (including their own prejudices) when interacting with a patient. Balint-style groups could be an effective way of encouraging medical students to reflect on the importance of emotions in the doctor-patient relationship.