Empathy in Osteopathic Medical Students: A Cross-Sectional Analysis

Marilyn Kimmelman, EdD; Jackie Giacobbe, MSEd; Justin Faden, DO; Geetha Kumar, MD, FAPA; Charlyene C. Pinckney, MS; and Robert Steer, EdD
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: August 17, 2011

Accepted: February 14, 2012

Published: June 1, 2012

J Osteopath Med; 112(6): 347-355

Context: Empathy is fundamental to patient care. Research studies of allopathic medical students have found a statistically significant decrease in empathy levels by the third year. Levels of empathy in osteopathic medical students have not been evaluated to determine whether a similar decline occurs in this group.

Objectives: To determine whether there were differences according to year of schooling in mean levels of empathy among osteopathic medical students, as assessed with the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy–Student Version (JSPE-S), and, secondarily, to compare these measures of empathy in osteopathic medical students with those reported elsewhere for allopathic medical students.

Methods: The JSPE-S was distributed to students during regularly scheduled classes at the end of the academic year at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford. Responses were anonymous. Data were analyzed by year in osteopathic medical school, sex, planned specialty, and ethnicity. Scores were compared with those of allopathic medical students reported elsewhere.

Results: Of the 415 respondents, 405 (98%) returned questionnaires with complete information, including 187 men (46%) and 218 women (54%). Of these respondents, 208 (51%) were white, 124 (31%) were Asian, and 73 (18%) were of another ethnicity. There were no statistically significant differences by year of schooling in respondents’ sex, ethnicity, or specialty orientation and no statistically significant differences by year of schooling in the mean JSPE-S scores.

Conclusions: Levels of empathy in osteopathic medical students were not found to decrease significantly by year of schooling, as reported in other studies for allopathic medical students. However, mean JSPE-S scores for first- and second-year osteopathic medical students were lower than those for first- and second-year allopathic medical students.

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