Medical EducationOriginal Article

Clinical Preceptors’ Perceptions of Empathy: The Empathy in Osteopathic Training and Education (EMOTE) Study

Glenn Elbert Davis, MS; Walter Carl Hartwig, PhD; and Adam J. McTighe, PsyD, MBA
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: November 3, 2016

Accepted: November 10, 2016

Published: August 1, 2017

J Osteopath Med; 117(8): 503-509

Context: Physician empathy influences rapport with patients and improves outcomes, but it is not well understood as an outcome of osteopathic medical education.

Objectives: To determine how clerkship preceptors at Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine-CA (TUCOM) in Vallejo define empathy and how they compare observed empathetic behavior of TUCOM students with that of other medical students.

Methods: Cross-sectional data were obtained from a survey of TUCOM clinical preceptors comparing TUCOM students with other medical students on 10 behaviors. Results were analyzed with a 2-tailed z test of proportional difference at the 95% confidence level.

Results: Of 650 preceptors contacted, 177 responded and were included in the final analysis (27%). Survey item reliability was high (Cronbach α=0.96). A majority of preceptors (59% to 71%) considered TUCOM students “similar” to other medical students for each behavior. A majority of preceptors (107 [60%]) shared a definition of empathy with one another and with the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. Approximately 39% of preceptors rated TUCOM students “better” or “advanced” for “displays of empathy” compared with approximately 30% of preceptors who rated students as better or advanced across all 10 behaviors. Preceptors who shared a definition of empathy rated TUCOM students as better or advanced at a significantly higher rate for “displays of empathy” (z=1.982, P<.05) compared with preceptors who did not share a definition (n=70). Osteopathic preceptors (n=67) rated TUCOM students significantly higher on “displays of empathy” (z=2.82, P<.05) and “clear and effective communication to patients, families and co-workers” (z=2.83, P<.01) than did allopathic preceptors. No significant differences were found based on number of years as a preceptor or on the combination of types of students the preceptor taught.

Conclusion: Most clinical preceptors shared a definition of empathy, and they were able to observe and rate displays of it in clerkship students. Preceptors rated TUCOM students more favorably than other students they taught for displays of empathy.

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