Phenomenon: Empathy is central to the physician–patient relationship, and affects clinical outcomes. There is uncertainty about the stability of empathy in medical students over the course of medical school, as well as differences in empathy between men and women. Approach: A panel study design was used to follow first year through fourth year medical students (MS1–4) during the 2018–2019 school year. Empathy was measured using the interpersonal reactivity index (IRI), a self-report scale that separates empathy into a cognitive perspective taking (PT) and affective empathic concern (EC) component. Findings: A total of 631 (359 women and 272 men) from 970 students (65% response rate) responded to a baseline survey, and a total of 536 students (300 women and 236 men) from 970 students (55% response rate) responded to surveys throughout the year. At baseline, women had significantly higher EC scores than men (p < 0.0001), with no significant PT difference between men and women (p > 0.05). These differences were stable for all MS cohorts. Insights: Women had self-reported higher affective empathy (EC component) than men, while there were no differences in cognitive empathy (PT component). We discuss these data in the context of defining gender vs. sex, socialized gender stereotypes, and implications for future research.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Jackie Gauer Austin Calhoun
© 2021, International Association of Medical Science Educators.
- Medical students
PubMed: MeSH publication types
- Journal Article