Chrisman-Khawam LM, Manzi JA. Empathy in MedicineCultivating an Empathetic Professional Identity in Osteopathic Medical Students Through Service Learning: A Qualitative Analysis of Reflective Essays. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2020;120(4):263–272. doi: https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2020.043.
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The role of professional identity development has been established as a significant element of the “hidden curriculum” in medical education. While most programs do not contain explicit instruction on that topic, service learning initiatives are a popular trend in medical education that offer medical students early clinical experience and an opportunity to develop professional identity. Through intentional reflective practices, service learning can also promote empathy development, a critical component missing from current models.
To determine the role of service learning participation on the development of empathy and professional identity among osteopathic medical students.
Using a grounded theory method, the authors analyzed reflective essays from students who voluntarily participated in a service learning project that provided medical care to patients who are homeless. Essays were completed within 1 week of volunteer experience.
The authors collected and analyzed 64 reflective essays from 55 students in this study. A review of the 64 texts yielded 5 coding domains and several subdomains. The codes revealed 4 major themes: (1) incoming attitudes, (2) transformative experiences, (3) empathy development, and (4) professional identity formation.
Structured service learning experiences provide students with an opportunity to develop an empathetic professional identity in the preclinical stage of medical education. This form of volunteer service is a transformative experience that challenges students’ incoming perceptions and leads to the development of both empathy and professional identity.
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