JAOA/AACOM Medical Education  |   April 2020
Empathy in MedicineCultivating an Empathetic Professional Identity in Osteopathic Medical Students Through Service Learning: A Qualitative Analysis of Reflective Essays
Author Notes
  • From the Department of Social Medicine (Dr Chrisman-Khawam) at the Cleveland Campus of the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Warrensville Heights (Student Doctor Manzi). 
  • Financial Disclosures: None reported. 
  • Support: None reported. 
  •  *Address correspondence to Joel A. Manzi, OMS III, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, 4810 Warrensville Center Rd, Warrensville Heights, OH 44122-7024. Email: jm546616@ohio.edu
     
Article Information
Medical Education / Graduate Medical Education
JAOA/AACOM Medical Education   |   April 2020
Empathy in MedicineCultivating an Empathetic Professional Identity in Osteopathic Medical Students Through Service Learning: A Qualitative Analysis of Reflective Essays
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, April 2020, Vol. 120, 263-272. doi:https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2020.043
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, April 2020, Vol. 120, 263-272. doi:https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2020.043
Abstract

Context: 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.

Objective: To determine the role of service learning participation on the development of empathy and professional identity among osteopathic medical students.

Methods: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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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