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Comparing a Self-Administered Measure of Empathy with Observed Behavior Among Medical Students



Studies show that measures of physician and medical students’ empathy decline with clinical training. Presently, there are limited data relating self-reported measures to observed behavior. This study explores a self-reported measure and observed empathy in medical students.


Students in the Class of 2009, at a university-based medical school, were surveyed at the end of their 2nd and 3rd year. Students completed the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy-Student Version (JSPE-S), a self-administered scale, and were evaluated for demonstrated empathic behavior during Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs).


97.6% and 98.1% of eligible students participated in their 2nd and 3rd year, respectively. The overall correlation between the JSPE-S and OSCE empathy scores was 0.22, p < 0.0001. Students had higher self-reported JSPE-S scores in their 2nd year compared to their 3rd year (118.63 vs. 116.08, p < 0.0001), but had lower observed empathy scores (3.96 vs. 4.15, p < 0.0001).


Empathy measured by a self-administered scale decreased, whereas observed empathy increased among medical students with more medical training.

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Permission to use the JSPE-S was obtained from the Jefferson Medical College Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care.

Funding Sources

None of the authors received any funding support for the study.

Conflict of Interest Statement

None of the authors reported any financial conflicts of interest or have any affiliations relevant to the manuscript subject.

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Correspondence to Daniel C. R. Chen MD, MSc.

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Chen, D.C.R., Pahilan, M.E. & Orlander, J.D. Comparing a Self-Administered Measure of Empathy with Observed Behavior Among Medical Students. J GEN INTERN MED 25, 200–202 (2010).

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  • empathy
  • JSPE
  • OSCE