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Would you pass the empathy test?



He watched as the rat tried to swim. This was the third time he’d sat the test and each time he’d failed, but this time he’d been to see a surgeon.

‘Take a seat and look directly at the screen ahead. No blinking whilst we run the film.’

The room had already darkened and the silent footage flickered across the black and white mirrors of his eyes.

He watched as a gloved hand dropped the rat by its tail into the water and he watched as the same hand pushed the rat back in.  

His head began to throb and the room became skull-grey as the ceiling splintered and the deep ravine in his own mind opened up. He walked through the ravine; over to one side there was a fleshy outcrop and ahead of him a stack-pile of slate-grey tissue. He pushed on, up the ravine, and as it began to fill with blood a warm necrotic wind carried the smell of burning flesh.

And then he was back in the room, watching the silent footage, watching as the rat scrabbled in the water – watching, without feeling, as it grew tired and eventually drowned.

The lights came back on and the stickers were peeled off his skin.

‘That’s the end of the test. Well done, your empathy score was 0 out of 10.’

Outside, back on the busy street, his feet scraped over a glittering scab of broken glass and the throb from his own scar began to ease. He’d passed the resilience test. At last he was ready to be a doctor. 

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Edinburgh.