CONTEXT: Research on associations between medical student empathy and demographics, academic background, and career interest is limited in number, lacks representative samples, and suffers from single institutional feature. This study was designed to fill the gap by examining associations between empathy in patient care, and gender, age, race/ethnicity, academic background, and career interest in nationwide, multi-institutional samples of medical students in the United States and to provide more definitive answers to the aforementioned associations with more confidence in the internal and external validity of the findings.
METHODS: Four nationwide samples participated in this study (n=10,751). Samples 1, 2, 3, and 4 included 3,616 first-year; 2,764 second-year; 2,413 third-year; and 1,958 fourth-year students who completed a web-based survey at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year. The survey included questions on demographics, academic background, and career interest, the Jefferson Scale of Empathy, and the Infrequency Scale of the Zuckerman-Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire to control for the effect of "good impression" response bias.
RESULTS: Statistically significant and practically important associations were found between empathy scores and gender (in favor of women), race/ethnicity (in favor of African-American and Hispanic/Latino/Spanish), academic background (in favor of "Social/Behavioral Sciences" and "Arts & Humanities" in Samples 1 and 2), and career interest (in favor of "People-Oriented" and "Psychiatry" specialties).
CONCLUSIONS: Special features of this study (e.g., nationwide representative samples; use of a validated instrument for measuring empathy in patient care; statistical control for the effect of "good impression" response bias; and consistency of findings in different samples from multiple institutions) provide more definitive answers to the issue of correlates of empathy in medical studentsand increase our confidence in the validity, reliability, and generalizability of the results. Findings have implications for career counselling, and targeting students who need more guidance to enhance their empathic orientation.
Hojat, Mohammadreza; DeSantis, Jennifer; Shannon, Stephen; Speicher, Mark; Bragan, Lynn; and Calabrese, Leonard H., "Empathy as Related to Gender, Age, Race/Ethnicity, Academic Background, and Career Interest: A Nationwide Study of Osteopathic Medical Students in the United States." (2020). Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Faculty Papers. Paper 49.
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