Background: Enhancing empathy in healthcare education is a critical component of delivering better patient care; however, the decline of empathy among students has been frequently reported. It is especially common when the curriculum transitions to a clinical setting. However, some studies have questioned the significance and frequency of this decline. Thus, this study aimed to determine whether postgraduate clinical training reduced dental trainees’ empathy levels toward patients.
Methods: This study included 64 trainee dentists at Okayama University Hospital and 13 simulated patients (SPs). The trainee dentists completed the Japanese version of the Jefferson Scale of Empathy for health professionals just before conducting initial medical interviews with SPs twice, at the beginning and the end of their clinical training. The SPs evaluated the trainees’ communication using an assessment questionnaire immediately after the interviews. The videotaped interview data were analyzed using the Roter Interaction Analysis System.
Results: When comparing the results from the beginning and end of training, trainee dentists showed sustained levels of self-reported empathy, decreased communication behavior in the emotional responsiveness category, and an unchanged assessment in communication from the simulated patients.
Conclusions: Overall, a one-year postgraduate dental training program neither reduced nor increased trainee dentists’ empathy levels. Providing regular education support in this area may help trainees foster their empathy.