Beginning with her experience as a medical actor, paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison’s essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about one another? How can we feel another’s pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other?
In her book “The Empathy Exams,” she draws from her own experiences of illness and injury and also explores everything from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration. Jamison explores ways in which we can (and cannot) comprehend the pain—real and imagined, internal and external—suffered by others and even ourselves. By confronting pain, she uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel.