First Ever Study Aims to Measure Empathy in Osteopathic Medical Education

January 23, 2019


Knowledge and skill obviously is a must in the study and practice of medicine. But empathy arguably is just as critical an element when it comes to being a great doctor. Thus, the launch of “Project in Osteopathic Medical Education and Empathy” (POMEE), a groundbreaking nationwide study designed to develop the first national norm table of empathy scores for medical students.

Researchers recently wrapped the first phase of the project which, via a web-based survey, measured and examined self-reported empathy levels of 6,009 students from 41 osteopathic medical colleges, branch campuses and teaching sites. That pool of participants represented roughly 85 percent of all incoming osteopathic medical students nationwide and the response rate proved unexpectedly high. In fact, response rates for 80 percent of participating colleges exceeded researchers’ 75 percent target goal, compared to average rates of just 35 percent in online surveys.

So why is this important? Research shows that empathy is a proven factor in patient outcomes and a significant predictor of clinical competence for physicians-in-training.

“Research shows us that physician empathy has a direct impact on patient outcomes and experiences,” said Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH, President and CEO, American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. “What we learn from POMEE will help inform the efforts of osteopathic medical education institutions as they strive to cultivate empathy in their students. As medical educators, it is incumbent upon us to better understand the role of medical school in retaining and developing physician empathy and to make changes wherever necessary to ensure that we continue to graduate highly-competent, empathic physicians to care for our nation.”

Data from phase II of the project will help educators create a baseline to further inform medical school curriculum by pinpointing factors that affect empathy levels in students. This next phase will involve a five-year longitudinal study and will track volunteer osteopathic student participants as they progress from their first year in medical school to their first year as a resident or fellow.

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