Background: Empathy is an indispensable skill in medicine and is an integral part of ‘professionalism’. Yet, there is still increasing
concern among medical educators and medical professionals regarding the decline in medical students’ empathy during medical
Aims: This article aims at comparing the levels of empathy in medical school students across the different years of undergraduate
medical education. It also aims at examining differences in empathy in relation to gender, year of study, cultural and religious
backgrounds, previous tertiary education and certain programmes within the curriculum.
Method: The Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy, Student version (JSPE-S) was employed to measure empathy levels in medical
students (years one to five) in a cross-sectional study. Attached to the scale was a survey containing questions on demographics,
stage of medical education, previous education, and level of completion of particular programmes that aim at promoting personal
and professional development (PPD).
Results: Four hundred and four students participated in the study. The scores of the JSPE-S ranged from 34 to 135 with a mean
score of 109.0714.937. Female medical students had significantly higher empathy scores than male medical students (111 vs.
106, p50.001) across all five years of the medical course. There was no significant difference in the total empathy scores in
relation to year of medical education. Yet, the highest means were scored by year five students who had completed personal and
professional development courses.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that there is a gender difference in the levels of empathy, favouring female medical students.
They also suggest that, despite prior evidence of a decline, empathy may be preserved in medical school by careful student
selection and/or personal and professional development courses.