February 05, 2019
2 min read

Project data establish national norm empathy scores for osteopathic medical students

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Data from phase 1 of the nationwide Project in Osteopathic Medical Education and Empathy, or POMEE, have been used to develop the first and only national norm table of empathy scores for any first-year medical student enrolled in osteopathic colleges in the United States.

“The data garnered from the first phase of the POMEE study are truly groundbreaking and will pave the way for future research on the critical topic of empathy,” Mohammadreza Hojat, PhD, of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, said in a press release. “The significance of physician empathy is widely accepted and endorsed by leaders in medicine and medical education, and this project is a platform to further explore the many aspects of this important physician attribute. In addition, the success we have seen thus far with POMEE could serve as a springboard for further studies across the health professions and beyond.”

To analyze measurement properties, underlying components and latent variable structure of the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) among U.S. first-year osteopathic students, as well as to establish a national norm table for the assessment of JSE scores, Hojat and colleagues devised a web-based survey. According to the researchers, the JSE is an internationally-known and validated instrument for measuring empathy in the context of health professions education and patient care.

Figure 1. Data from the POMEE study have been used to develop the first and only national norm table of empathy scores for first-year medical students in U.S. osteopathic colleges.
Source: Adobe

Administered at the beginning of the 2017 to 2018 academic year, the survey included the JSE, a scale to detect “good impression” responses and demographic and background information. A total of 6,009 students from 41 osteopathic medical colleges, branch campuses and teaching sites completed and returned their questionnaires.

According to the researchers, the results supported a previous findings that there is a statistically significant association between students’ JSE scores and their school faculty’s global rankings of student clinical competence in core clerkships in family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry and surgery. The JSE mean score for the sample was 116.54, with a standard deviation of 10.85. In addition, item-total score correlations were positive and statistically significant (P<.01).

In addition, the researchers observed significant gender differences in JSE scores in favor of women. Significant differences were similarly found on item scores between top and bottom third scorers on the JSE.

“Results were generally similar to those reported for allopathic medical students and other health professions students and practitioners,” Hojat and colleagues wrote. “The norm table developed in this study can assist in assessing individuals’ scores against national norms, and can potentially serve as an additional criterion for admissions decisions, or for breaking ties in applicants with similar academic qualifications.”


According to the researchers, phase 2 of the study will seek to evaluate factors that affect empathy levels in students. A 5-year longitudinal study, it is scheduled to continue from summer 2019 to fall 2023, and will track a volunteer cohort of osteopathic student participants as they progress from their first year in medical school to their first year as a resident or fellow.

“Research shows us that physician empathy has a direct impact on patient outcomes and experiences,” Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, said in the release. “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.”– by Jason Laday

Disclosure: The researchers report sponsorship from the American Association of College of Osteopathic Medicine, the American Osteopathic Association and the Cleveland Clinic. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.