Research recently published in Advances in Health Sciences Education provides the first baseline for assessing the empathy scores of osteopathic medical students, in what many hope will contribute to the scientific understanding of empathy.
The study analyzed surveys of over 6,000 first-year osteopathic medical students according to the Jefferson Scale of Empathy, a broadly used tool developed to measure health professionals’ empathy in the context of education and patient care.
The researchers also implemented a statistical control for the possible confounding effects of study participants’ desire to appear more compassionate on the surveys, and say that this is the first time in medical education research that this has been done.
A planned longitudinal study
The research is part of a planned longitudinal study known as Project in Osteopathic Medical Education and Empathy (POMEE). POMEE is sponsored by AOA and AACOM in collaboration with the Sidney Kimmel College of Thomas Jefferson University and Leonard Calabrese, DO, a professor of medicine at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.
The POMEE study is intended to measure changes in the empathy scores of medical students and physicians and give insight into shifts over time.
Empathy and physician wellness
“Eventually, this work may lead to new understandings about the role empathy plays in physician wellness, as well as its impact on outcomes for patients,” said Adrienne White-Faines, AOA CEO. “Our hope is that studying the many aspects of empathy will help to improve patient care, evolve medical education training, as well as ultimately help to decrease burnout and increase career satisfaction for physicians.”
“The significance of physician empathy is widely accepted and endorsed by leaders in medicine and medical education, and this project is a platform to further explore the many aspects of this important physician attribute,” Mohammadreza Hojat, PhD, an author of the study, said in a press release. Hojat is Research Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Director of Jefferson Longitudinal Study, Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.
At least two major components are involved in medical education, the authors wrote. One is cognitive ability, which is usually reflected in academic achievement, test performance and procedural skills. The other is often framed as personality factors, including attitudes, interests, values and other psychosocial characteristics.
Both cognitive abilities and personality factors are associated with patient outcomes.