Osteopathic students displayed higher empathy vs. other medical students

Clinical preceptors rated students of an osteopathic medical school to have better displays of empathy compared with other medical students, according to published study results.

Researchers sent an electronic survey to 650 clinical adjunct faculty members at Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine-CA (TUCOM) in Vallejo, California, which compared TUCOM students with other medical students on empathetic behavior.

There were 177 preceptors (27%) who responded and were included in the analysis. Allopathic physicians made up 72% of the respondents. In 10 behaviors that related to professionalism and interpersonal and communication skills, 59% to 71% of preceptors rated TUCOM students similar to other medical students.

“A majority of preceptors (107 [60%]) shared a definition of empathy with one another and with the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine,” the researchers wrote.

TUCOM students were rated “better” or “advanced” for displays of empathy by approximately 39% of survey respondents, while approximately 30% of preceptors gave students the same ratings across all 10 behaviors.

Preceptors who shared a definition of empathy rated TUCOM students significantly better or advanced for “displays of empathy” compared with students from other medical schools (z = 1.98). Compared with allopathic preceptors’ rankings, TUCOM students were ranked significantly higher on “displays of empathy” (z = 2.82) and “clear and effective communications to patients, families and co-workers” (z = 2.83) by osteopathic preceptors.

“This phenomenon is more pronounced among DO preceptors than MD preceptors, as well as among the cohort that shared the definition of empathy compared with the cohort that did not,” the researchers wrote.

“Clinical preceptors were able to evaluate displays of empathy in clerkship students and provide feedback to training programs about this important element of the patient-physician relationship,” the researchers concluded. “Future studies should examine how patients perceive empathy in their encounters with physicians and how empathy relates to clinical outcomes.”



Davis GE, et al. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2017;doi:10.7556/jaoa.2017.100.


Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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