Medical Education  |   October 2016
Effect of Medical Education on Empathy in Osteopathic Medical Students
Author Notes
  • From the Department of Forensics at Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta (Dr McTighe), the Department of Psychology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Pennsylvania (Drs DiTomasso and Felgoise), and the Center for Research in Medical Education & Health Care and the Department of Psychiatry & Human Behavior at Thomas Jefferson University Sidney Kimmel Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Dr Hojat). 
  • This study is based on Dr McTighe’s doctoral dissertation in psychology. Data from this study were presented in part at the Annual American Osteopathic Association Conference on October 26, 2014, in Seattle, Washington. 
  •  *Address correspondence to Adam J. McTighe, PsyD, MBA, Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta, 3073 Panthersville Rd, Bldg 7, Decatur, GA 30034-3828. E-mail: adampsyd@gmail.com
     
Article Information
Medical Education
Medical Education   |   October 2016
Effect of Medical Education on Empathy in Osteopathic Medical Students
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, October 2016, Vol. 116, 668-674. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2016.131
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, October 2016, Vol. 116, 668-674. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2016.131
Abstract

Context: Empathy is an integral component of the patient-physician relationship and involves a cognitive ability to connect with others in a meaningful fashion. Multiple longitudinal studies have shown that self-reported allopathic medical student empathy declines significantly during year 3. However, to date, only 4 cross-sectional studies have been published on osteopathic medical students’ empathy. Whereas studies of allopathic medical students reported a decline in empathy, similar results were not found in osteopathic studies.

Objective: To investigate (1) self-reported empathy through years 1 to 3 of osteopathic medical students and (2) whether empathy declines during year 3.

Design: Design included cross-sectional and test-retest data collection.

Setting: Private osteopathic medical school in the Northeast region of the United States.

Participants: Osteopathic medical students.

Main Outcome Measure: The Jefferson Scale of Empathy medical student version.

Results: Respondents (N=717) included 383 women (53%) and 334 men (47%). When empathy levels were examined by demographics, the only significant finding was that women reported significantly higher empathy levels than men (112.3 vs 109.3; P<.001). Cross-sectional results indicate that mean empathy levels were significantly lower for third-year students at the end of the year (108.7) compared with first- and second-year students at the beginning of the year (111.3 and 112.4, respectively; P<.05). Test-retest analyses of year 3 indicated significantly lower empathy levels from the beginning to the end of the academic year (111.2 and 108.7, respectively; P<.05).

Conclusion: Osteopathic medical students’ empathy declined significantly during year 3, which is consistent with the findings from allopathic samples but differs from findings from osteopathic samples. More research is needed to build the data on osteopathic medical student samples and to achieve a better understanding of changes in empathy in osteopathic and allopathic medical students.

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