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J Dent Educ. 2005 Mar;69(3):338-45.

Measurement of changes in empathy during dental school.

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  • 1University of Washington, Department of Oral Medicine, Box 356370, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Empathy in the health care setting is the ability to understand a patient's experiences and feelings and the capability to communicate this understanding. Although empathy has been shown to play an important role in the dentist-patient relationship and is a core competence for dentists, no measure of empathy has been validated in the dental setting. Further, little is known about changes in empathy during dental school. We examined the psychometric properties of a measure of empathy applied to the dental school setting and compared levels of empathy in dental students across their four years of training. One hundred and thirty students completed a survey including the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy (JSPE). The JSPE was found to be both a reliable and valid empathy measure for dental students with similar psychometric properties to those found in medical students, residents, and physicians. Further, first-year dental students had significantly higher empathy scores than students in any subsequent year. Consistent with the literature in medical settings, the timing of the decline in empathy levels corresponded to increases in patient exposure. We suggest that training students in the interpersonal skills designed to enhance the dentist-patient relationship should continue throughout dental school training.

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