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Communication skills training and the conceptual structure of empathy among medical students

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Publication details

JournalPerspectives on Medical Education
DateE-pub ahead of print - 18 Apr 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Aug 2018
Issue number4
Number of pages8
Pages (from-to)264-271
Early online date18/04/18
Original languageEnglish


Introduction: Medical and healthcare professionals’ empathy for patients is crucially important for patient care. Some studies have suggested that a significant decline in empathy occurs during clinical training years in medical school as documented by self-assessed empathy scales. Moreover, a recent study provided qualitative evidence that communication skills training in an examination context, such as in an objective structured clinical examination, might stimulate perspective taking but inhibit the development of compassionate care. Therefore, the current study examined how perspective taking and compassionate care relate to medical students’ willingness to show empathic behaviour and how these relations may change with communication skills training. Methods: A total of 295 fourth-year Japanese medical students from three universities completed the Jefferson Empathy Scale and a newly developed set of items on willingness to show empathic behaviour twice after communication skills training, pertaining to post-training and retrospectively for pre-training. Results: The findings indicate that students’ willingness to show empathic behaviour is much more correlated with perspective taking than with compassionate care. Qualitative descriptive analysis of open-ended question responses revealed a difficulty of feeling compassion despite showing empathic behaviour. Discussion: These findings shed light on the conceptual structure of empathy among medical students and generate a number of hypotheses for future intervention and longitudinal studies on the relation between communication skills training and empathy.

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© The Author(s) 2018

    Research areas

  • Communication skills training, Empathic behaviour, Jefferson Scale of Empathy, Medical students, Objective structured clinical examination

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