Teaching excellence

Osteopathic educator wins award for researching empathy in med students

Bruce Newton, PhD, of Campbell University becomes the first osteopathic medical educator to receive IAMSE’s Master Teacher Award.


In June, Bruce Newton, PhD, professor and chair of anatomy at Campbell University’s Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine (CUSOM) in Buies Creek, North Carolina, became the first osteopathic medical educator to receive the Master Teacher Award from the International Association of Medical Science Educations (IAMSE).

IAMSE’s Master Teacher Award recognizes extraordinary excellence in teaching. Dr. Newton received the award for his research on empathy in medical students and his international work in education—he has helped Taiwanese teachers develop an anatomy curriculum and accredited new medical schools in the United Arab Emirates.

The Master Teacher

After teaching MD students at the University of Arkansas for nearly 25 years, Dr. Newton was eager for a new challenge. He moved to CUSOM when the school opened in 2013.

As an anatomy professor, Dr. Newton seeks to show students why anatomical structures are built the way they are, why it’s important to know how they function, and what happens when something breaks.

“Students have to learn what deficits a patient will present with if something doesn’t work,” he elaborates. “Conversely, we can test them and say, ‘The patient comes to you with these deficits. What’s broken?’ We approach it both ways to get students to think critically.”

Empathy research

In addition to teaching, Dr. Newton is also active in the field of empathy research. Starting when he was at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Newton began measuring empathy in MD students. He is now in his fourth year of the same study with CUSOM students. He is the first person to conduct a longitudinal study of empathy in osteopathic medical students, to his knowledge.

In his research, Dr. Newton uses widely recognized empathy measurement tools such as the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE), which is used to measure empathy in health care professionals. Although he has not completed his DO student research, Dr. Newton says he sees a key difference in the data between the MD and DO students he has worked with.

“Data from the University of Arkansas found that after the first year in medical school, empathy really dropped off,” he says. “I’m still examining the data, but so far, I have found that empathy scores didn’t really drop after students’ first year here at Campbell.”

When writing about the neural basis of empathy, Dr. Newton began to understand why students have to blunt affective empathy, the nervous system’s automatic response to others’ feelings, in order to effectively respond to a patient with cognitive empathy, the conscious effort to understand others’ feelings.

“Not every patient is going to have a good outcome, and physicians can’t take these tragedies home with them,” says Dr. Newton. “We as educators at medical schools have to help these students learn how to handle stress.”