Empathy in medical students: assessment and relationship to specialty choice
Bailey, Beth Anne, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Short, Jerry G., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Richards, Herbert, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Strang, Harold R., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Mohrmann, Margaret, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Empathy is widely understood to be a critical skill for future physicians, but it has been a difficult construct to measure and evaluate in medical school. This study attempted to measure empathy in medical students in three different domains: emotional, cognitive, and behavioral. Measurements of emotional and cognitive empathy were obtained from a class of medical students at the end of the third year of medical school using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). Behavioral empathy was assessed by standardized patients in the Clinical Practice Exam, administered to the same cohort of medical students at the end of the third year.
In addition to measuring empathy, this study was designed to determine if there were differences in empathy scores between medical students planning a patient-oriented career and those planning a procedure-oriented career. At the time the medical students completed the IRI, they were asked to indicate which specialty they planned to pursue after graduation. These specialties were categorized as patient-oriented or procedure-oriented.
There were significant differences in empathy measures between medical students indicating a preference for a patient-oriented specialty and students planning a career in a procedure-oriented specialty. Medical students who scored higher on all empathy measures were more likely to prefer a specialty that requires extensive and prolonged contact with patients. Medical students who scored lower on empathy measures were more likely to select specialties that are procedure-oriented, consisting of relatively brief patient encounters.
Women scored higher than men on all measures of empathy, with significant differences in standardized patient empathy ratings and the IRI emotional empathy scale of Empathic Concern. There were no relationships among empathy measurements or specialty choice with other selection criteria, including cumulative undergraduate GPA, Medical College Admission Test scores, or application essays that were encoded for self or other-focused emphasis. Parents' occupations, coded as service or non-service, were not related to any empathy measures.
Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.
PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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