Measuring empathy in medical students, gender differences and level of medical education: An identification of a taxonomy of students

Medir la empatía en estudiantes de medicina, las diferencias por género y nivel de educación médica: identificación de una taxonomía de los estudiantes
Marta Isabel Ferreira Duartea, Mário Lino Barata Raposoa, Paulo Joaquim Fonseca da Silva Farinha Rodriguesa, Miguel Castelo Brancoa

a University of Beira Interior (UBI), Portugal

Recibido el 7 de enero de 2016; aceptado el 29 de abril de 2016

Palabras Clave

Empatía, Estudiantes de medicina, JSPE-spv.


Empathy, Medical students, JSPE-spv.


Introduction: Empathy is the mediating role of the physician–patient relationship. Through this process the practitioner seeks to understand the patient's frame of reference and also to establish a relationship of openness, mutual respect, trust and deep understanding.

Objective: This study aims to analyze the perceptions of medical students on the importance of empathy in the doctor–patient relationship, and to analyze the gender differences and in the different years of the course. It is also intended to identify a taxonomy of students based on their perceptions of empathy.

Methods: This cross-sectional study was conducted on undergraduate medical students. A total of 208 medical students responded to the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy–Student Portuguese Version (JSPE-spv). Principal Components Analysis with varimax rotation was used to identify the number and compositions of emerged factors. The scores of the retained factors were submitted to a cluster analysis to identify different groups of students, based on the dimension of empathy. A One-way Anova analysis and post-hoc tests of Tukey supported the identified cluster.

Results: This study shows statistically significant differences between genders, i.e., female individuals show higher scores than male individuals. Empathy increases over the course, but with no statistically significant differences. Six factors emerged from factor analysis, and three of them are empathy dimensions found in other studies: “adoption of perspectives”, “compassionate care”, and “standing in the patients shoes”. Cluster analysis divided the students into five groups according to the dimensions of empathy identified.

Conclusions: In this medical school in Portugal, it may be concluded that women are more empathetic than men, and empathy grows throughout the course. It is recommended to carry out a longitudinal study, in order to follow the evolution of these students, as well as to analyze factors that contribute to the increase in empathy characteristics.