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Teach Learn Med. 2018 Jan 24:1-10. doi: 10.1080/10401334.2017.1419873. [Epub ahead of print]

Do Gold Humanism Honor Society Inductees Differ From Their Peers in Empathy, Patient-Centeredness, Tolerance of Ambiguity, Coping Style, and Perception of the Learning Environment?

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a Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry , Harvard Medical School/The Cambridge Health Alliance , Cambridge , Massachusetts , USA.
f Arnold P. Gold Foundation Research Institute , Cambridge , Massachusetts , USA.
b Department of Medical Education , American Medical Association , Chicago , Illinois , USA.
c Center for Evaluation, Harvard Medical School , Boston , Massachusetts , USA.
d Graduate Medical Education, Wayne State University , Detroit , Michigan , USA.
e School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks , North Dakota , USA.


Construct: Induction into the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS) during medical school is recognized as an indicator of humanistic orientation and behavior. Various attitudes and interpersonal orientations including empathy and patient-centeredness have been posited to translate into behaviors constituting humanistic care.


To our knowledge there has never been a longitudinal, multi-institutional empirical study of the attitudinal and interpersonal orientations correlated with GHHS membership status.


We used the American Medical Association Learning Environment Study (LES) data set to explore attitudinal correlates associated with students whose behaviors are recognized by their peers as being exceptionally humanistic. Specifically, we examined whether empathy, patient-centeredness, tolerance of ambiguity, coping style, and perceptions of the learning environment are associated with GHHS membership status. We further considered to what extent GHHS members arrive in medical school with these attitudinal correlates and to what extent they change and evolve differentially among GHHS members compared to their non-GHHS peers. Between 2011 and 2015, 585 students from 13 North American medical schools with GHHS chapters participated in the LES, a longitudinal cohort study using a battery of validated psychometric measures including the Jefferson Scale of Empathy, Patient-Practitioner Orientation Scale and Tolerance of Ambiguity Questionnaire. In the final survey administration, students self-identified as GHHS inductees or not (non-GHHS). T tests, effect sizes, and longitudinal generalized mixed-effects models examined the differences between GHHS and non-GHHS students.


Students inducted into GHHS scored significantly higher on average over 4 years than non-GHHS inductees on clinical empathy, patient-centered beliefs, and tolerance of ambiguity. GHHS students reported higher levels of empathy and patient-centeredness at medical school matriculation. This difference persists in the 4th year of medical school and when controlling for time, race, gender, and school.


GHHS inductees enter medical school with different attitudes and beliefs than their non-GHHS classmates. Although humanistic attitudes and beliefs vary over time during students' 4 years, the gap between the two groups remains constant. Medical schools may want to consider selecting for specific humanistic traits during admissions as well as fostering the development of humanism through curricular interventions.


empathy; humanism; medical education; tolerance of ambiguity

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