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Int J Med Educ. 2017 Jul 11;8:262-267. doi: 10.5116/ijme.5951.6044.

Nurturing virtues of the medical profession: does it enhance medical students' empathy?

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, Brazil.
Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, Brazil.



To examine if the empathy levels of first-year medical students are amenable to didactic interventions idealized to promote values inherent to medical professional identity.


This is a pretest-posttest study designed to assess the empathy levels of first-year medical students (n=166) comprising two consecutive classes of a Brazilian medical school, performed before and after a didactic intervention. Students attended a course based on values and virtues related to medical professional identity once a week over four months. Every didactic approach (interviews with patients and physicians, supervised visits to the hospital, and discussion of videotaped simulated consultations) was based on "real-world" situations and designed to promote awareness of the process of socialization. Students filled out the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy (JSPE) on the first and last days of this course, and the pretest-posttest analysis was performed using the Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test.


The mean pretest JSPE score was 117.9 (minimum 92, maximum 135) and increased to 121.3 after the intervention (minimum 101, maximum 137). The difference was significant (z=-5.2, p<.001.), with an effect size of 0.40. The observed increase was greater among students with lower initial JSPE scores.


Empathy is a fundamental tool used to achieve a successful physician-patient relationship, and it seems to permeate other virtues of a good physician. This study's results suggest that medical students' empathy may be amenable to early curricular interventions designed to promote a positive development of their professional identity, even when empathy is not central in discussion.


empathy; medical education; professional identity

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