McTighe AJ, DiTomasso RA, Felgoise S, Hojat M. Effect of Medical Education on Empathy in Osteopathic Medical Students. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2016;116(10):668–674. doi: 10.7556/jaoa.2016.131.
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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.
This Medical Education section represents a new collaboration between the JAOA and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) to recruit, peer review, edit, and distribute articles through the JAOA on osteopathic medical education research and other scholarly issues related to medical education.
Keywords: empathy, medical education, osteopathic medical education, patient-physician relationship
a Percentages do not total 100 because of rounding.
b Race/ethnicity terms reflect those used in the survey. “Other” here may include Native American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Arab American/Middle Eastern, mixed, and other.
c Third-year osteopathic medical students were asked to take the survey twice: once at the beginning of the school year and once at the end of the school year. In this table, only data from the beginning of the year are shown.
a The Jefferson Scale of Empathy medical student version (JSE-S) is a 20-item survey with Likert-type responses ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) for a possible total score of 20 to 140. Higher scores indicate greater empathy.
b Third-year osteopathic medical students were asked to take the survey twice: once at the beginning of the school year and once at the end of the school year. First- and second-year students were only asked to take the survey once at the beginning of the school year.
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