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Keywords:

  • empathy;
  • professionalism;
  • attitudinal assessment

Abstract

Introduction:  Professionalism is a central tenet of the dental undergraduate curriculum. Dental undergraduate curricula and standards expect the dentist to put the patient’s interests first, and in this respect, an important attitude is empathy.

Objective:  This study examined the self-reported empathy levels of first-year dental students before and after an early analytical exposure to behavioural sciences and the clinical encounter.

Method:  First-year dental undergraduates were given an attitudinal questionnaire to complete before and after the behavioural science course. The questionnaire consisted of the HP version of the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy and the Patient-Practitioner Orientation Scale. Paired non-parametric tests and Spearman’s Rho correlations, along with simple descriptive statistics, were used to test the statistical significance of observations.

Results:  A total of 66 paired questionnaires were returned, giving a response rate of 75%. There were no correlations between age and total mean score of JSPE or PPOS, and no gender differences. There was a significant increase (P < 0.01) in empathy as measured by the JSPE between pre- and post-course scores. The PPOS did not record any significant change in the sharing, caring or total scale scores pre- to post-course.

Conclusion:  The modified JSPE has potential utility in assessing the cognitive-affective aspect of dental students’ empathy. Using the JSPE, short-term measurable empathy changes can be detected in first-year dental undergraduates after the structured and assessed analytical introduction to the clinical encounter and environment.