Purpose: Within a medical context, empathy is defined as "an appropriate understanding and communication of a patient's experience." While it has been established that empathy is an important quality to have as a future doctor, studies have shown that empathy in medical students declines during their clinical years. However, there are no studies to date that evaluate medical student empathy in Canada. Therefore, we aimed to evaluate medical student empathy at McGill University Medical School using the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE).
Methods: We used a cross-sectional study design and invited medical students across all 4 years, in October 2019, to complete the JSE. The JSE is a validated psychometric tool that measures empathy at one point in time. The survey was distributed via email and on social media. We offered the chance for participants to win a prize if they completed the survey.
Results: A total of 133 students from all 4 years responded, proportionate across each year. Differences in mean questionnaire were not statistically significant for gender (p=0.364), age (p=0.2746) or specialty interest (p=0.436). The ANOVA for differences in year of medical school was significant (p=0.0104). Between groups analysis revealed a statistically significant decrease between Med-2 empathy scores (average score 117.6) and Med-3 (107.5), p<0.01.
Conclusion: Our statistical analysis determined that medical students’ empathy declines between the second and third year of medical school in a Canadian context, consistent with global results. This information can help us target changes in the medical curriculum to preserve empathy in students, and prevent this decline, which could then be applied to other medical schools internationally.