Does nonviolent communication education improve empathy in French medical students?

Int J Med Educ. 2021 Oct 29;12:205-218. doi: 10.5116/ijme.615e.c507.


Objectives: To evaluate the impact of nonviolent communication (NVC) training on five aspects of medical students' empathy skills using implicit and explicit measures.

Methods: 312 third-year French medical students were randomly allocated to an intervention group (n = 123) or a control group (n = 189). The intervention group received 2.5 days of NVC training. For each group, empathy-related skills were measured implicitly using three cognitive tests (Visuo-Spatial Perspective Taking, Privileged Knowledge, Empathy for Pain evaluation) and explicitly using two self-rating questionnaires (Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy, Empathy Quotient). Both groups completed tests and questionnaires before (pre-test) and three months after training (post-test). Responses were collected via online software, and data were analyzed using paired linear mixed models and Bayes Factors.

Results: We found a significant increase in the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy (JSPE) score between pre- and post-tests in the intervention group compared to the control group (linear mixed models: 0.95 points [0.17, 1.73], t(158) = 2.39, p < 0.05), and an expected gender effect whereby females had higher JSPE scores (1.57 points [0.72, 2.42], t(262) = -3.62, p < 0.001). There was no interaction between these two factors.

Conclusions: Our results show that brief training in nonviolent communication improves subjective empathy three months after training. These results are promising for the long-term effectiveness of NVC training on medical students' empathy and call for the introduction of NVC training in medical school. Further studies should investigate whether longer training will produce larger and longer-lasting benefits.

Keywords: empathy; medical students; nonviolent communication; perspective taking; social cognition.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Students, Medical*