Enhancing empathy in medical students using FLEX Care communication training
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The purpose of this study was to test the ability of an interpersonal communication program to enhance empathy within a sample of second-year osteopathic medical students. Researchers within the fields of medicine and medical education agree that empathy has a significant effect on clinical outcomes, and in improving interpersonal relationships of physicians and their patients. However, numerous studies suggest the empathy levels of medical students decline as they proceed through their training.;This study's true experimental, posttest-only control-group pilot study allowed for the comparison of posttest measures between sample groups. The experimental group treatment included exposure to a new interactive interpersonal communication in health care training workshop grounded in the psychological type theory and the Myers-Briggs Type IndicatorRTM. Posttest measures included the use of a new empathy assessment tool designed specifically for use within medical school populations (the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy - student version).;An historical review of the literature allowed for the development of a contemporary conceptualization of physician empathy emphasizing the cognitive, affective, and behavioral domains of an individual's psychological make-up while also embracing a physician's ability to establish therapeutic relationships with his or her patients. In addition, the critical role of self-awareness was highlighted in its ability to limit the risks associated with physician empathy as well as facilitate the process of empathy development.;Results highlight the FLEX Care(TM) program's ability to affect student behavioral empathy development while also emphasizing the program's ability to increase students' awareness of their own preferences and preferred style of communication. Results observed between student empathy and assessed communication skill scores and gender, extracurricular program involvement, and psychological type characteristics, also highlighted statistically significant and substantive findings.;Conclusions drawn from study findings allowed for the development of recommendations that, if implemented, would provide medical schools a comprehensive formal curriculum designed to enhance empathy in medical students and reverse the effects of the rigors and socialization process of medical training. Suggestions for further study are also provided.