Cognitive Expertise, Emotional Development, and Reflective Capacity: Clinical Skills for Improved Pain Care

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31 Scopus citations


The overarching goal of medical training is to nurture the growth of knowledgeable, caring, and insightful clinicians guided by the ideals of medical professionalism. Recent definitions of professional competence identify essential clinical skills, including cognitive expertise, emotional competence, and reflective capacity. This modern framework reflects the increasingly complex nature of the patient-clinician interaction, in which the clinician must exchange diagnostic information while supportively engaging the patient on a deeper, affective level. The affective dimension can be particularly potent when pain is the primary symptom, as it is for the majority of medical visits. Unfortunately, however, current models of professionalism, used as an early guide for medical trainees to develop an understanding of the clinical exchange, largely focus on interactions in the cognitive domain. To emphasize the importance of emotions in professional development, we propose the Cognitive and Emotional Preparedness Model, which describes the clinical encounter occurring on two channels, one cognitive and the other emotional, and stresses the importance of multidimensional development in preparing the clinician to (1) communicate clinical information, (2) provide emotional support, and (3) actively reflect on experiences for continued improvement. Together, acquisition of knowledge, emotional development, and reflective skill will improve the clinical interaction. Perspective: The proficiency of medical trainees in developing clinical skills profoundly shapes patient satisfaction and treatment outcomes. This article reviews the cognitive, emotional, and reflective development of medical trainees and presents a model illustrating how clinical development impacts pain care. For improved efficacy, pain education should be calibrated to students' developmental needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)975-983
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2008


  • Professionalism
  • compassion
  • competence
  • empathy
  • medical education
  • patient-physician interaction
  • psychosocial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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