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J Clin Nurs. 2012 Jul;21(13-14):2016-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2012.04105.x.

Developing empathy in nursing students: a cohort longitudinal study.

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Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Verona, Verona, Italy.



To determine whether a specific training course will enhance empathic skills in student nurses during a 3-year degree course. The study considers levels of empathy in student nurses and assesses whether these can be increased.


Empathy is accepted as a critical component of supportive relationships. Many scholars have argued that empathy provides health professionals with the capacity to improve the health of patients, so it should ideally be taught to make health professionals more responsive to patient needs.


Cohort longitudinal study.


Data were collected using the Italian version of the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale (BEES). The study was designed to guarantee repeated measurements of levels of emotional empathy in the pre- and postintervention phases. This allowed us to evaluate the development and improvement of empathy and to measure the effects of extra training on the students' empathy skills. Two groups took part in the study: the Intervention and the Control Groups. Students in the Intervention Group attended additional seminars and laboratories in small groups with tutors to learn and develop communicative and empathic abilities.


One hundred and three participants (76% women) completed the study. Data showed that the training course was effective, especially for women: BEES scores 31.60 at pre-intervention phase and 42.91 at the end of the academic course. Results regarding men were less clear, and the study discusses these unexpected, anomalous findings.


According to literature, men and women have different empathic traits, and we found that they show disparate empathic tendencies. More women than men took advantage of the training course. In any case, our data show that specific training courses are effective.


As our study shows, empathy is a skill that may be taught. So it would be advisable to introduce these into the traditional nursing curriculum.

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