Anecdote or Reality: Are People From the South and/or Rural Areas of the USA More Empathetic?
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Although numerous studies have analyzed empathy scores of allopathic and osteopathic medical students and how these scores fluctuate throughout undergraduate medical education, little is known about whether demographics have an impact on medical students’ empathy scores. Using the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale (BEES) and Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) surveys to measure affective and cognitive empathy, respectively, this present study examined the relationship between empathy scores with the following demographic data from first and second year students at a southeastern US osteopathic medical school: the classification of whether students came from a rural or urban background, the region of the US students lived in prior to matriculation to medical school, and the town/city size of where they were currently living at the time of applying to medical school. Data analyses showed only one statistically significant data point (p < 0.04) that revealed first year osteopathic medical students (OMS-I) from towns with < 10,000 occupants had higher JSE scores in comparison to students coming from towns with 50,000–99,999 occupants. However, trends could be established. For example, anecdotally, it is often presumed people from the southern United States tend to be friendlier than those from the northern states; however, contrary to this, the data revealed OMS-I students from the southern United States had a slightly lower BEES scores than OMS-I students from the northeastern states. JSE scores were nearly identical across all four US census bureau regions. Additionally, OMS-I students coming from an urban background had a higher BEES scores than those coming from a rural background. Compared to population norms, combined male and female BEES scores for OMS-I and -II students were within ± 0.5 s.d. of the norm and are considered to be “average” scores. Combined OMS-I JSE scores were below the population norm at the 37th percentile, and combined OMS-II JSE scores were also at the 37th percentile, except for students from the western region at the 44th percentile.
KeywordsAffective empathy Cognitive empathy BEES JSE Undergraduate medical education Demographics Regional differences
The authors thank the medical students who voluntarily filled out the survey forms. The data analyses were performed during the 2017 CUSOM Medical Student Summer Research Program supported by CUSOM funds. These data were presented in abstract form at the June, 2018 International Association of Medical Science Educators (IAMSE) meeting in Henderson, NV, USA.
BWN collected the data and edited the drafts. VPN analyzed the data, performed literature searches and wrote the initial drafts.
Funds for data analyses was provided to Ms. Vanessa P. Nguyen by the CUSOM Medical Student Summer Research Program.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.
This study was approved by Campbell University IRB Committee (No. 30, 7-1-2013).
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