• Empathy levels among health professional students: a cross-sectional study at two universities in Australia

    by Alan Batt. Last modified: 23/05/14

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    Williams B1, Brown T2, McKenna L3, Boyle MJ1, Palermo C4, Nestel D5, Brightwell R6, McCall L7, Russo V1. Empathy levels among health professional students: a cross-sectional study at two universities in Australia. Adv Med Educ Pract. 2014 May 3;5:107-13. PMID: 24833947.

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    Abstract

    Background

    Empathy is paramount in the health care setting, optimizing communication and rapport with patients. Recent empirical evidence suggests that empathy is associated with improved clinical outcomes. Therefore, given the importance of empathy in the health care setting, gaining a better understanding of students’ attitudes and self-reported empathy is important. The objective of this study was to examine self-reported empathy levels of students enrolled in different health disciplines from two large Australian universities.

    Methods

    A total of 1,111 students from two different universities enrolled in eight different health professions were administered the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy – Health Profession Students version, a 20-item 7-point Likert scale questionnaire to evaluate self-reported empathy levels.

    Results

    A total of 1,111 students participated in this study. The majority of participants were from Monash University (n=771), with 340 students from Edith Cowan University. No statistically significant differences were found between universities: Monash University (mean 110.1, standard deviation [SD] 11.8); Edith Cowan University (mean 109.2, SD 13.3, P=0.306). The mean female empathy score (mean 110.8, SD 11.7) was significantly higher than the mean male score (mean 105.3, SD 13.5; P<0.0001; d=0.44). Paramedic students had significantly lower empathy scores (mean 106.3, SD 12.73) than all other participants except nursing students (P<0.0001).

    Conclusions

    Results relating to sex are reflective of previous studies. There is some discrepancy in results relating to empathy and its incline/decline as students progress through a program. Further study is warranted to explore why there are variations in empathy levels in students of different health disciplines.

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    Alan Batt

    Alan Batt

    Paramedic, educator, researcher
    Alan is a critical care paramedic, paramedic educator and prehospital researcher, currently working around the world as an educator and researcher. He has previously worked and studied across Europe, North America and the Middle East. He holds a Graduate Certificate in Intensive Care Paramedic Studies, and an MSc in Critical Care. His main interests are in care of the elderly, end-of-life care, patient safety, professionalism (including role and identity), and paramedic education.

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