The empathy enigma: an empirical study of decline in empathy among undergraduate nursing students

J Prof Nurs. 2012 Jan-Feb;28(1):34-40. doi: 10.1016/j.profnurs.2011.10.007.


An empathic relationship between caregiver and patient not only defines the quality of the patient's experience as a recipient of care, it also contributes to patient outcomes. This longitudinal study was designed to examine changes in empathy during an academic year among undergraduate nursing students. Participants were 214 undergraduate nursing students who completed the Jefferson Scale of Empathy at the beginning and at the end of 2006-2007 academic year. Statistical analyses showed a statistically significant decline of empathy for nursing students who were exposed more than others to patient encounters during study period (F(2, 211)= 4.2, p < 0.01). Findings are consistent with those found among medical students in that nursing students' encounters with patients which ironically are supposed to strengthen empathic engagement have shown a decline in student empathy. Suggestions for improving empathic behaviors in nursing students are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Nursing*
  • Empathy*
  • Empirical Research
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Students, Nursing / psychology*