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As a family medicine doctor, I want to refine how I express empathy with the different types of suffering that people experience. My voice and body language show the empathy I feel, but I don't feel I am verbally expressing it well enough.

If you were to tell your primary care doctor of your suffering or difficulties, how would you expect/want them to respond?

In our southern California clinic, the majority of our Spanish-speaking patients are from Mexico, a number are from El Salvador, and the rest from all over Latin America.

Issues I run into:

  • "perdon" has no role unless I made a mistake
  • "lo siento" seems to carry the feeling that I am at least partly at fault
  • "lamento que" is definitely appropriate sometimes but often too strong
  • "que pena" or "que lastima" I don't feel like I have mastered using these well

In English, I express myself well, but don't feel I have a good grasp for the Spanish equivalents of things like:

  • "I'm sorry" (that you've had to endure that, for your loss, etc)
  • "I'm sorry to hear that"
  • "That has to be very difficult"
  • "That is quite a burden you've had to carry."

Example situations:

  • Mild pain/suffering or just molestias
  • Severe pain/suffering
  • Accidents or injuries
  • Death or other loss of a loved one
  • Their having caused harm to another person (e.g. guilt for accidentally injuring one's child etc)
  • Discussing end of life care, delivering news of terminal illness

I appreciate any and all help in this! :)

Also, I plan to compile this into something I can share with my colleagues as well, who are different stages of learning Spanish; even when using an interpreter, it helps people connect to be able to express empathy without an interpreter.

  • This is a very interesting question! Could you indicate where from are the Spanish speakers you are talking to? Qué pena would be a very good candidate in Colombia, but not in Spain, for example. – fedorqui Aug 26 '16 at 6:10
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    There are phrases like the ones you have given. But for some reason I think they sound too formal. When I go to the doctor I expect somebody warm, so kind, cheerful and friendly. I do not expect sombody that uses too formal phrases like "lamento escuchar eso". If I were a doctor I would use "Es una pena que...." for all the situations. Except when sombody dies. In that case I would say "Lamento su/tu pérdida" and/or "Debe ser muy difícil". It may have something to do with cultural differences or maybe just personal preferences – Maurocrispin Aug 26 '16 at 18:23
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"Siento comunicarle que..." (if it's serious)

"Desafortunadamente..." (that's more for heavier situations too)

"Tengo una buena y no tan buena noticia..." (if you have bad and good news maybe?)

"Siento que usted haya estado sufriendo/con mucho dolor..."

Just some examples of how to handle difficult situations maybe.

  • Thanks! Is there any difference between the feeling relayed in "siento que" versus "lo siento?" Grammatically, it is the same verb, but in use are they basically the same? – DoctorWhom Aug 31 '16 at 4:48
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    "Lo siento" is more for saying "I'm sorry..." whereas "siento que" is more referring to "I regret that..." hope this makes sense – spartmar Aug 31 '16 at 5:33
  • You can also say "Lamento", as in "lamento anunciarle que..." – FGSUZ Sep 5 '18 at 9:46
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I'm sorry that you've had to endure that: siento mucho que tenga que pasar por esto / siento mucho tener que decirle que...(I'm sorry to tell you that...)
I'm sorry for your loss: siento mucho su pérdida (formal way) tu perdida (informal way)
I'm sorry to hear that: siento escuchar eso or just lo siento mucho (I'm so sorry)
That has to be very difficult: debe ser muy dificil
That is quite a burden you've had to carry: es muy dificil por lo que tiene que pasar(more common in Mexico) / es una carga muy pesada para usted

In the case of a loss we (in Mexico) just say: lo siento or lo siento mucho

If they accidentally caused harm to somebody: sé como te sientes, pero no es culpa tuya (informal like when you're talking to younger people) sé como se siente pero no es culpa suya (formal if it's an adult, a colleague, etc)

Discussing end of life care, delivering news of terminal illness: siento mucho tener que informarle que...

  • Thank you. So "lo siento" or "siento que" does not carry a connotation of it being my fault/responsibility? – DoctorWhom Aug 31 '16 at 4:48

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