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Am J Med. 2016 Dec;129(12):1334-1337. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.08.005. Epub 2016 Aug 24.

Medical Humanities Coursework Is Associated with Greater Measured Empathy in Medical Students.

Author information

  • 1Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, Washington State University, Spokane. Electronic address:
  • 2Providence Internal Medicine Residency Spokane, Wash.
  • 3University of Washington School of Medicine.
  • 4College of Nursing, Washington State University Spokane.
  • 5Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, Washington State University, Spokane.



The primary focus of the study was to determine whether coursework in the medical humanities would ameliorate students' loss of and failure to develop empathy, a problem known to be common during medical education.


Students were offered an elective course in the Medical Humanities for academic credit. The Jefferson Scale of Empathy Student Version (JSE-S) was administered at the beginning and end of an academic year in which humanities courses were offered. Changes in JSE-S scores among students who studied Medical Humanities were compared with changes in student who did not take any humanities coursework.


Medical humanities coursework correlated with superior empathy outcomes among the medical students. Of students not enrolled in humanities courses, 71% declined or failed to increase in JSE-S score over the academic year. Of those who took humanities coursework, 46% declined or failed to increase in JSE-S scores. The difference was statistically significant (P = .03). The medical humanities curriculum correlated with favorable empathy outcomes as measured by the JSE-S.


Elective medical humanities coursework correlated with improved empathy score outcomes in a group of US medical students. This may reflect a direct effect of the humanities coursework. Alternately, students' elective choice to take medical humanities coursework may be a marker for students with a propensity to favorable empathy outcomes.


Curriculum innovations; Empathy; Medical humanities

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