Objectives: We aimed to explore empathy, moral competencies, callous traits, and temperament in a sample of medical students. Furthermore, we aimed to investigate differences in our variables across the 1st and 5th years of medical education and possible correlations between them.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional study with 138 medical students. We resorted to self-reported instruments that were given at the end of classes: Barrett-Lennard Relational Inventory, Temperament Evaluation of Memphis, Pisa and San Diego Auto-questionnaire, Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits, and Moral Competence Test. For the statistical analysis, we resorted to descriptive and inferential statistics, using non-parametric tests when data didn't follow a normal distribution.
Results: We found no statistical difference between empathy scores in 1st (N=104, Mean=41.42, SD=22.48) and 5th year students (N=34, Mean=37.35, SD=23.35), t(136)=0.908, p=0.366. Callous traits were negatively correlated with empathy (r(136)=-0.444, p=0.000) and no correlation between moral competences and empathy (r(96)=0.029, p=0.779) was observed. We found a negative correlation between empathy and cyclothymic, anxious and irritable temperaments (r(136)=-0.334, p=0.000, r(136)=-0.281, p=0.001, r(136)=-0.400, p=0.000).
Conclusions: Our scores corroborate previous evidence that medical students are empathic, have good moral standards and low callous traits. We saw no differences in empathy scores between the two years and future studies could explore the particulars of medical curriculums impacting this variable. In our study, empathy was negatively correlated with callous traits and linked with specific temperaments. Considering these variables at admission to medical school as well as preserving and improving them in medical education might offer better standards of care.
Keywords: callous traits; empathy; medical education; moral competences; temperament.