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ORIGINAL ARTICLE  
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 69-73
Standing in patients' shoes — survey on empathy among dental students in India


1 Department of Public Health Dentistry, Chettinad Dental College and Research Institute, Kelambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
2 Department of Periodontia, Chettinad Dental College and Research Institute, Kelambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
3 Intern, Chettinad Dental College and Research Institute, Kelambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

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Date of Web Publication9-Jan-2015
 

   Abstract 

Background: Empathy is fundamental to the health care provider-patient relationship. The present study was conducted with the aim to assess the level of Empathy among Indian Dental Students and the objectives of the study are to assess any difference in the level of empathy across gender and year of study.
Materials and Methods: Cross sectional descriptive study, employing convenience sampling method was conducted to assess the level of empathy using a validated, self-administered questionnaire Jefferson Scale of Empathy, Health Care Provider Student version (JSE-HPS) in this study. Independent samples t-test and one way ANOVA was used for comparison of empathy scores across gender and year of study.
Results: A total of 406 dental students and Interns participated in the present study; the mean empathy score among the dental students was 82.76 ± 8.59. Mean empathy score of male students (83.99 ± 8.711) is greater than female students (82.37 ± 8.54) and there is a significant difference in empathy score among years of study (P < 0.05).
Conclusion: Mean empathy score among Indian Dental Students is lesser than those reported in other studies. Empathy should be given importance in dental curriculum to improve dentist-patient relationship, thereby improving the treatment outcomes.

Keywords: Dental students, empathy, Jefferson Scale of Empathy

How to cite this article:
Prabhu S, Kumar V S, Prasanth S S, Kishore S. Standing in patients' shoes — survey on empathy among dental students in India. J Educ Ethics Dent 2014;4:69-73

How to cite this URL:
Prabhu S, Kumar V S, Prasanth S S, Kishore S. Standing in patients' shoes — survey on empathy among dental students in India. J Educ Ethics Dent [serial online] 2014 [cited 2019 Jun 26];4:69-73. Available from: http://www.jeed.in/text.asp?2014/4/2/69/148990



   Introduction Top


Empathy is fundamental to the health care provider-patient relationship. [1] In terms of patient care, empathy is defined as a cognitive attribute that involves an ability to understand the patient's experiences, pain, suffering and perspective combined with a capability to communicate this understanding and intention to help. [2] Pederson (2009) defined empathy succinctly as the "appropriate understanding of the patient". [3] The concept of empathy in health care fields is diverse, but most likened to ideas of compassion, thoughtfulness, attentiveness and caring, all of which culminate in a desirable type of "chair side manner" that generates understanding and produces positive rapport with patients. It is considered essential to the notion of patient-centred care: To what degree can a patient's best interests be served if the caregivers know relatively little about the patient's world, values or interests. [4]

Medical research has shown that the use of a "warm, empathic style" by physicians during communications with patients is associated with improved treatment outcomes [5] such as increased compliance with medical recommendations, [6],[7] decreased pain [8] and reduced recovery time, [9],[10] as well as increased patient satisfaction [7],[11],[12] and decreased medical litigation. [13],[14] The role of empathy in the dentist-patient relationship has received less attention. [15] Demonstration of empathy by dentists has been correlated with decreased dental fear, [16],[17],[18] increased compliance with orthodontic treatment, [19] improved treatment success and cooperation in paediatric patients, [20],[21] improved treatment outcomes in myofacial pain, [22] and increased patient satisfaction. [22],[23]

One of the challenges in measuring empathy among health care professionals is the abundant descriptions of empathy from the various domains of psychology [24],[25],[26] and neuroscience. [27] The gold standard for assessment of empathy and interpersonal skills is behavioural observation by trained observers to ascertain use of skills. However, this can be only costly and time-consuming. [28] Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy (JSPE-HPS) has been validated in a variety of dental settings; [28],[29] however there is a lack of studies among the Indian Dental students to assess their level of empathy, hence the present study was conducted with the aim to assess the level of Empathy among Indian Dental Students and the objectives of the study are to assess any difference in the level of empathy across gender and year of study.


   Materials and Methods Top


A cross sectional descriptive study, employing convenience sampling method was conducted among the students and interns of Chettinad Dental College and Research Institute, Kelambakkam to assess their level of empathy using a validated, self-administered questionnaire Jefferson Scale of Empathy, Health Care Provider Student version (JSE-HPS) in this study. [31] The instrument consists of 20 items answered on 7-point likert scale which are scored from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The questionnaire consists of the following questions:

(1) My understanding of how my patients and their families feel do not influence medical or surgical treatment,

(2) I believe that emotion has no place in the treatment of medical illness,

(3) My patients value my understanding of their feelings, which is therapeutic in its own right,

(4) Empathy is a therapeutic skill without which success in treatment is limited,

(5) I believe that empathy is an important therapeutic factor in medical or surgical treatment,

(6) My patients feel better when I understand their feelings,

(7) Patients' illnesses can be cured only by medical or surgical treatment; therefore, emotional ties to my patients do not have a significant influence on medical or surgical outcomes,

(8) An important component of the relationship with my patients is my understanding of their emotional status, as well as that of their families,

(9) I do not allow myself to be influenced by strong personal bonds between my patients and their family members,

(10) Attentiveness to my patients' personal experiences does not influence treatment outcome,

(11) I try to think like my patients in order to render better care,

(12) I consider understanding my patients' body language as important as verbal communication in caregiver-patient relationships,

(13) I try to understand what is going on in my patients' minds by paying attention to their nonverbal cues and body language,

(14) I try to imagine myself in my patients' shoes when providing care to them,

(15) I try not to pay attention to my patients' emotions in history taking or in asking about their physical health,

(16) It is difficult for me to view things from my patients' perspectives,

(17) I have a good sense of humour, which I think contributes to a better clinical outcome,

(18) Because people are different, it is difficult for me to see things from my patients' perspectives,

(19) Asking patients about what is happening in their personal lives is not helpful in understanding their physical complaints and

(20) I do not enjoy reading nonmedical literature and the arts.

Among the 20 questions, 10 negatively worded items in the scale were reverse scored they are Question No - 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 12, 15, 16, 19 and 20. The total score ranges from 20-140; a higher score indicates a behavioural tendency favouring empathic engagement in patient care. [2],[31],[32],[33]

The sample size required for the present study was estimated to be (N = 158) dental students based on the study conducted by Sherman et al (2005). [28] Prior to the start of the study approval has been obtained from the college authorities and explanation was given to all the dental students regarding the study and informed consent was obtained from the students who are willing to participate in the study, students who were not willing to participate in the study were excluded.

Self - administered Questionnaires were distributed to the students, Data collection was done for a period 15 days, from 16 th Jan 2014 to 30th Jan 2014 and the students were asked to go through the statements carefully and are asked to 'tick' the appropriate answer of their choice. The filled questionnaires were collected by placing a collection box in the department of Public Health Dentistry during the aforementioned time period.

Collected forms filled with responses were entered in Microsoft Excel - 2010 and then subjected to statistical analysis using SPSS (Version 17). Frequency tables were computed and Independent samples t-test is used for the comparison of mean empathy score across gender and between clinical and non-clinical dental students. One way ANOVA with Tukey's Post-Hoc test was used for the comparison of the difference in Empathy scores across all the years of study.


   Results Top


A total of 406 dental students and interns participated in the present study; response rate was 81.2% (406/500). [Figure 1] depicts the distribution of study subjects according to the year of study and gender among the 89 study subjects from first year 28 (31.5%) were male and 61 (68.5%) were female, among the 100 study subjects from second year 22 (22%) were male and 78 (78%) were female, among the 72 study subjects from third year 18 (25%) were male and 54 (75%) were female, among the 76 study subjects from final year 13 (17.1%) were male and 63 (82.9%) were female and among the 69 interns 16 (23.2%) were male and 53 (76.8%) were female, In all the years of study the proportion of female students is found to higher than male students.

[Table 1] depicts the mean empathy level across gender based on the year of study, Independent samples t-test showed that the difference in the mean empathy level was found to be statistically significant across gender among the first year students (P < 0.05) and there is no difference in the mean empathy level across gender among the students from the other years of study.
Figure 1: Distribution of study subjects according to year of study and gender

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Table 1: Comparison of mean empathy level across gender

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[Table 2] depicts the comparison of mean empathy level across non-clinical year (first year and second year) vs. Clinical year (third year, final year and Interns) students. Independent samples t-test showed that there is no difference in their level of empathy between non-clinical and clinical year students.

[Table 3] depicts the mean empathy level of the study subjects across the year of study, mean empathy level for the second year students was highest 85.00 ± 7.99 (mean ± SD) and the empathy level was the least for third year students 81.08 ± 7.11 (mean ± SD). One way ANOVA test showed that the difference in mean empathy level across the year of study was statistically significant (P < 0.05).
Table 2: Comparison of mean empathy level across nonclinical vs. clinical year students

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Table 3: Comparison of mean empathy level across year of study

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[Table 4] depicts the comparison of mean empathy score among the years of study among dental students using Tukey's post hoc test. Mean difference in empathy score was found to be significant between first year vs. second year students and between second year vs. third year students (P < 0.05).
Table 4: Comparison of mean empathy scores across
year of study


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   Discussion Top


The present cross-sectional descriptive study employing convenience sampling method was conducted with the aim to assess the empathy level among Indian dental students, the mean empathy score among the dental students was 82.76 ± 8.59 (mean ± SD) and the results of the present study are in accordance with the studies conducted by Sherman et al (2005). [28] The mean empathy score in this study is much lower than the average empathy scores of 103-117 reported by previous studies among medical [33],[35] and dental students [35] using S-version and HP-version of JSE. This difference in empathy level could be a result of their different cultural values, religious beliefs or traditions. [36] It has been reported earlier that cultural differences, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and sex stereotyping may lead to empathy score disparity [38] and can also influence empathic engagement during clinical encounters. [36]

Comparison of mean empathy score across gender showed that the male students had a comparatively higher empathy score than female dental students the results of the present study are in accordance with the previous studies by Sherman et al. [28] Grace et al. [38] This can be attributed to the higher proportion of female students compared to male students in the present study, there has been a demographic shift in the selection of dental degree course and recent trends had shown that dentistry is commonly chosen by female students than male dental students.

Comparison of empathy scores across years of study showed significant difference in the empathy level among dental students with the second year students and the interns having the higher score compared to other years of study, this is attributed to the exposure of second year dental students to the medical field which makes them feel much about the patients' pain and there is gradual decline in empathy level from second year to final year [29],[32] and there is again an increase in level of empathy among the interns which is attributed to the responsibilities given for the interns towards patient care and their urge to start their clinical practice which makes them "Standing in Patients' shoes" a necessity for a successful dental practice.

The limitations of the present study are difference in gender distribution and empathy is recorded on the cross-sectional basis, as a result it cannot give information on change in empathy during the dental curriculum and the students responded to the survey based on their experience in the previous years in the dental school[39].


   Conclusion Top


The present study shows that there is a low empathy level among dental students when compared to other studies and the empathy level of male students was higher than the female students. It is necessary to inculcate the role of empathy in dentist-patient relationship among the dental students by modification of dental curriculum for improving dentist-patient relationship; further longitudinal studies are required to assess the change in empathy level during dental the dental school training.

 
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Correspondence Address:
Dr. S Prabhu
Department of Public Health Dentistry, Chettinad Dental College and Research Institute, Rajiv Gandhi Salai, Kelambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0974-7761.148990

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