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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 26  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 4-8

Medical students' and residents' conceptual structure of empathy: A qualitative study

1 Department of General Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Nagoya, Japan
2 Educational Sciences, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan
3 Skillslab, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Science, Maastricht University, Maastricht, Netherlands

Correspondence Address:
Muneyoshi Aomatsu
Department of Education for Community-Oriented Medicine, Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine, Nagoya, Japan 65 Tusurmai-cho, Showa-ku, Nagoya, 466-8550
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1357-6283.112793

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Background: Empathy is a crucial component of medicine. However, many studies that have used quantitative methods have revealed decline of learners' empathy during undergraduate and postgraduate medical education. We identified medical students' and residents' conceptual structures of empathy in medicine to examine possible differences between the groups in how they conceive empathy. Methods: We conducted a qualitative study with two focus group discussions in which six medical students and seven residents participated separately. The transcripts of the focus group discussions were analysed combining qualitative data analysis and theoretical coding. Results: Medical students and residents had different conceptual structures of empathy. While medical students thought that sharing emotions with patients was essential to showing empathy, residents expressed empathy according to their evaluation of patients' physical and mental health status. If the residents thought that showing empathy was necessary for the care of patients, they could show it, regardless of whether they shared the patients' emotions or not. Conclusions: The comparison of medical students' and residents' conceptual structures of empathy reveals a qualitative difference. Residents show more empathy to their patients by a cognitive decision as clinicians than medical students do. Communication skills training should consider the qualitative change of students' and residents' empathy with clinical experience. We should consider the change when we evaluate learners' empathy and introduce methods that cover the qualitative range of empathy.

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