Correlates and changes in empathy and attitudes toward interprofessional collaboration in osteopathic medical students

J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2013 Dec;113(12):898-907. doi: 10.7556/jaoa.2013.068.


Context: Many studies have reported a decline in empathy as allopathic medical students progress through medical school. Data are needed to compare the pattern of changes in empathy in osteopathic and allopathic medical students. Also, it is important to investigate the associations between measures of empathy and attitudes toward interprofessional collaboration, which are among major elements of professionalism in medicine.

Objectives: (1) To investigate correlations between empathy and interprofessional collaboration in osteopathic medical students; (2) to examine differences in empathy and interprofessional collaboration scores by sex, class year, and specialty interest; and (3) to compare empathy scores by class year between osteopathic and allopathic medical students.

Design: Correlational and comparative study.

Setting: Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Participants: Osteopathic medical students enrolled in academic year 2011-2012.

Main outcome measures: The Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) and the Jefferson Scale of Attitudes toward Physician-Nurse Collaboration (JSAPNC) scores.

Results: Student respondents (N=373) included 197 women (53%) and 176 men (47%). Significant correlation was found between scores on the JSE and JSAPNC (r=0.42, P<.01). Women scored higher than men on the JSE (mean scores, 117.1 and 111.9, respectively; F1,371=19.6, P<.01) and the JSAPNC (mean scores, 50.1 and 48.7, respectively; F1,371=6.5, P<.01). No statistically significant difference on the scores of the 2 scales was observed among students who planned to pursue "people-oriented" specialties (150 [40%]) compared with those interested in "technology/procedure-oriented" specialties (170 [45%]). No statistically significant change in empathy scores was found in different class years of the osteopathic medical students. Comparisons of empathy scores with allopathic medical students showed no significant difference in the first and second years, but osteopathic medical students had a higher mean empathy score (M=114.4) than their allopathic counterparts (M=110.9) in the third year (t158=2.31, P<.05), and their empathy scores remained high, although not statistically significant, in the fourth year of osteopathic medical school.

Conclusion: The decline in empathy that is often reported among allopathic medical students was not observed. The present study can serve as a step toward further longitudinal research on the development of empathy and attitudes toward teamwork among osteopathic medical students.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Ohio
  • Osteopathic Medicine / education*
  • Osteopathic Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Physician-Nurse Relations*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Sex Factors
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult