Do empathy, perspective-taking, sense of power and personality differ across undergraduate education and are they inter-related?
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Empathy is desirable in all health care professionals in their interactions with patients and each other. Empathy in its cognitive (perspective-taking) and affective forms has been well-studied in the literature and in fact, is shown in most studies to decline during undergraduate and graduate medical education. Empathy has also been shown to be inversely proportional to one’s sense of power (SOP) in the business literature. In addition, the relationship of empathy to personality traits has not been examined. This cross-sectional study of four cohorts of undergraduate medical students at a private mid-Atlantic medical school compares the empathy of first, second, third and fourth year medical students to see if there is a decline across the medical school experience. It also examines the relationship among empathy, SOP and personality type across the 4 years of medical school. Unlike in many previous studies, we found no decline in student empathy. We found no significant relationship between SOP and empathy. Finally, there were no significant differences in power perception and personality measures across all educational years surveyed.