Previous studies have shown a general decline in students' empathy as they advance through the years of medical school. However, to my knowledge, there have not been studies evaluating differences in empathy towards specifically patients with mental illness. It is important to explore whether the negative bias towards mental illness exacerbates this decline in empathy throughout the years of medical education when presented with psychiatric patients. This is important because low empathy toward psychiatric patients at the medical school level may continue into the professional level. For this ongoing study, a current sample of 47 students (19 second-years, 15 third-years, and 13 fourth-years) were shown five 3-minute long videos; each video was of a patient speaker from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The general content of the videos included each speaker’s experiences with their physicians and the role of healthcare provider in managing their psychiatric illness. After watching the patients’ narratives, the students completed the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy for students (JSE), to measure the differences in the empathy. The preliminary results showed a trend of a decline in empathy with advancing years in medical school; however, these current preliminary results were not statistically significant (F (2,44) = 1.02, p = 0.37; b = 3.03, 95% CI of -7.26 to 1.21). After the sample size increases, if the final results show a significant trend of decline in empathy with advancing years of medical school, then this may potentially raise awareness about disparities in empathy regarding psychiatric patients.
Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University