Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Impact of a Workshop about Aging on the Empathy Scores of Pharmacy and Medical Students

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Impact of a Workshop about Aging on the Empathy Scores of Pharmacy and Medical Students

Article excerpt


Empathy is an important component of the healthcare provider-patient relationship that has been linked to optimal patient outcomes. (1) Indicators of empathic engagement in patient care, such as communication, positive talk, appropriate touch, eye contact, bodily posture, gestures, and quality and quantity of the encounter can lead to increased patient satisfaction, (2-5) better compliance, (6-8) patients' feelings of being important, (9) accuracy of diagnosis, (10) and accuracy of prognosis. (11) Given the increased level of direct patient interaction that occurs between the pharmacist and the patient, empathy is also a key component of the pharmacist-patient relationship.

Despite the importance of improving empathy in health-professions students, empathy declines as students progress through medical school, (12-14) dental school, (15) and postgraduate medical education. (16,17) These findings are a warning signal to the leaders and faculty members of health-professions educational institutions that strategies need to be designed not only to prevent the erosion of empathy but also to enhance students' empathic orientation to achieve better understanding of patients.

Numerous approaches have been suggested to improve empathy among health-professions students. (18) One approach to enhancing empathy is for students to assume the roles of persons in need of medical care, including elderly persons with age-related impairments. (19-25) Anecdotal reports suggest that these approaches result in better understanding of the concerns and experiences of elderly people with chronic or terminal diseases. (20,26,27) However, the short- and long-term effects of such approaches have not been empirically documented by using a psychometrically sound instrument specific to measuring empathy in the context of patient care. Moreover, most exercises about aging consume a considerable amount of personnel resources. (19) This study was designed to determine the immediate and sustained impact on empathy scores of a workshop during which pharmacy and medical students watched and discussed a brief theatrical performance on the challenges of aging.


A workshop on empathy was developed for pharmacy and medical students as part of a required biochemistry course. While most aging workshops last at least 3 hours, (19-23) the time and personnel constraints of the course (28,29) limited the workshop to 40 minutes. Participants in the workshop included 187 first-year students in the Chicago College of Pharmacy (89% of 209 students in the class of 2014) and 183 first-year students in the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (91% of 202 students in the class of 2014) at Midwestern University. Participants were divided into groups of 20 to 40 students and assembled in different classrooms at different times. Five faculty members each facilitated one to three 40-minute workshop sessions over a 3-hour period of a single day.

Upon arrival at the workshop, students were informed that the purpose of the workshop was to depict the problems and concerns of elderly patients through a brief enactment by 2 of their fellow students. Before the start of the play, the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) was administered. The JSE (HPS-Version for pharmacy students and JSE, S-Version, for medical students), which was developed following an extensive review of the literature, relies on the definition of empathy in the context of patient care as a predominantly cognitive attribute that involves an understanding of the patient's experiences, concerns, and perspectives, combined with a capacity to communicate this understanding and an intention to help. (12,18) The scale includes 20 items answered on a 7-point Likert scale (ranging from strongly agree = 7 to strongly disagree = 1).

The JSE has been examined previously for its psychometrics in pharmacy students, (30) and it has been used to measure their empathy. …

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