Empathy, well-being, and mental health: do gender differences diminish by the end of medical school?

Women Health. 2020 Dec 15;1-11. doi: 10.1080/03630242.2020.1859664. Online ahead of print.


This study aims to investigate if medical students demonstrate differences related to gender in terms of empathy, burnout, tolerance, openness to spirituality, well-being, and mental health, and to examine whether these differences vary across levels of medical training. A cross-sectional study was conducted in the first semester of 2015 in a Brazilian medical school. The following were evaluated: quality of life (WHOQOL-Bref), burnout (Oldenburg), mental health (DASS-21), empathy (Empathy Inventory and ESWIM), and tolerance, well-being, and openness to spirituality (ESWIM). We investigated how these outcomes varied in terms of gender, stage of medical training, and its interaction using a two-way MANOVA. A total of 776 students were included and important differences were observed. As medical training advanced, the differences between genders that were present during students' initial years (greater empathy, worse quality of life, and worse mental health among women) tended to become nonsignificant during the clerkship years. In addition, a significant interaction between stage and gender was found for ESWIM Wellness; WHOQOL; DASS Anxiety and DASS Stress. These results may denote a shortcoming in the way medical schools approach gender differences. Educators should consider these findings when restructuring curricula to respect gender differences, thus fostering their respective potentials.

Keywords: Empathy; gender bias; medical education; mental health; quality of life.