A Cross-sectional Measurement of Medical Student Empathy

Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Journal of General Internal Medicine (Impact Factor: 3.42). 10/2007; 22(10):1434-8. DOI: 10.1007/s11606-007-0298-x
Source: PubMed


Empathy is important in the physician-patient relationship. Prior studies have suggested that physician empathy may decline with clinical training.
To measure and examine student empathy across medical school years.
A cross-sectional study of students at Boston University School of Medicine in 2006. Incoming students plus each class near the end of the academic year were surveyed.
The Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy-Student Version (JSPE-S), a validated 20-item self-administered questionnaire with a total score ranging from 20 to 140. JSPE-S scores were controlled for potential confounders such as gender, age, anticipated financial debt upon graduation, and future career interest.
658 students participated in the study (81.4% of the school population). The first-year medical student class had the highest empathy scores (118.5), whereas the fourth-year class had the lowest empathy scores (106.6). Measured empathy differed between second- and third-year classes (118.2 vs 112.7, P < .001), corresponding to the first year of clinical training. Empathy appears to increase from the incoming to the first-year class (115.5 vs 118.5, P = .02). Students preferring people-oriented specialties had higher empathy scores than students preferring technology-oriented specialties (114.6 vs 111.4, P = .002). Female students were more likely than male students to choose people-oriented specialties (51.5 vs 26.9%, P < .001). Females had higher JSPE-S scores than males (116.5 vs 112.1, P < .001). Age and debt did not affect empathy scores.
Empathy scores of students in the preclinical years were higher than in the clinical years. Efforts are needed to determine whether differences in empathy scores among the classes are cohort effects or represent changes occurring in the course of medical education. Future research is needed to confirm whether clinical training impacts empathy negatively, and, if so, whether interventions can be designed to mitigate this impact.

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    • "The results obtained suggest the following generalizations: 1) there are differences between the Dentistry faculties of the universities examined; 2) females display higher empathy levels than males, with some exceptions; 3) empathy levels tend to increase as students progress in their majors; 4) interactions were observed between the factors studied (year and gender); and 5) the unexplained variance may be the expression of currently unknown factors which influence empathy. Previous studies conducted in Latin America [2] [10] [15]-[18] and in other continents [19]-[22] only examine this construct in each population in association with the factors mentioned above (year and gender), but do not compare this attribute between student populations. This study shows that the variability of empathy between populations may constitute a trend. "
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    • "Mean scores on the Jefferson Scale of Empathy were high among all first-year students in the present study, in the range reported among first-year medical students from other medical schools in the United States and in other countries (Chen et al., 2007; Hojat, 2007; Hojat et al., 2009b; Kataoka et al., 2009; Magalhães et al., 2011). The shared variance (25%) between the Groningen and Jefferson scales was not high enough to indicate that the two measures are redundant but at the same time it was not so low as to indicate that the two measures are independent. "

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