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The Project in Osteopathic Medical Education and Empathy (POME2)

Doctor and Patient's hands claspingDescription, Goals, Implications, and Data Collection

Mohammadreza Hojat, PhD
Sidney Kimmel Medical College
Thomas Jefferson University

The Project in Osteopathic Medical Education and Empathy (POME2), sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), is a collaboration between Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and the Cleveland Clinic. This project is the first study of empathy in osteopathic medical education in the United States at this level of national scale and scope.

About the Study

The POME2 in its broader scope is a two-phased project: It will begin with Phase I which is a two-year cross-sectional study, and will continue with Phase II, which is envisioned as a five-year longitudinal study subsequent to the completion of Phase I, contingent upon funding availability. This report is about Phase I of the project.

Goals of Phase I

  1. Providing descriptive statistics of empathy scores (means, medians, standard deviations, score ranges, etc.) for osteopathic medical students by gender, year in medical college, and specialty interest. Additional stratifying variables such as age, race/ethnicity, undergraduate major, and previous work experience in the health care setting will be used for group comparison purposes and examining their associations with empathy scores.
  2. Examining the psychometrics of the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) in osteopathic medical students (e.g., corrected item-total score correlations, internal consistency of the scale by coefficient alpha, underlying factors, etc.).
  3. Comparing descriptive statistics for osteopathic medical students with those published for allopathic medical students to examine similarities and differences.
  4. Creating national norm tables of empathy scores for osteopathic medical students. The norm tables will be prepared by gender and by year in medical college if significant differences on empathy scores are found by these variables.
  5. Examining variation in empathy scores in different years of medical school. 

Study Population and Sample

The study population is medical students in colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States. The study sample will include students from 41 osteopathic medical colleges in the U.S. who agreed to participate in the project.

The Study Survey

The web-based study survey includes the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE, 20 items), which is a validated instrument developed specifically to measure empathy in the context of health professions education and patient care, plus the Infrequency Scale (10 items) of the Zuckerman-Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire to control for social desirability response bias. In addition, demographic information, undergraduate major, specialty interest, and prior work experience in a health care setting will be solicited in the survey.

The survey will be completed online using a web link specific to each participating college. Students in each college will go online to access the survey. Students are informed in the survey that their participation is voluntary, and no personal ID is required with the exception of optional demographic information that will be used for research purposes only. Completion of the survey will take approximately five minutes.

Benefits of Phase I Project to Participating Medical Colleges and Students

Each participating college will receive a confidential report of descriptive statistics for its students’ aggregated empathy scores, compared to the aggregated data from the rest of participating colleges. De-identified data with empathy scores for students in each participating college will also be shared with the corresponding college (if dissemination of de-identified data has been approved by the corresponding college’s IRB). Every effort will be made to maintain anonymity by careful examination of the combined demographic information that could possibly identify the individual student (e.g., a combination of age, gender, and race). The empathy report, data, and national norms, will serve each college in providing them with a measurement of empathy of their student population, which can be utilized according to the needs of the institution, including but not limited to, internal evaluations, reporting on student body characteristics, development of targeted educational programs in medical training, professional development, and leadership in osteopathic medicine.  

Participating students who voluntarily provide their email address in the survey will receive an email from Jefferson which will include the receiver’s empathy score plus a corresponding table of national norms for the assessment of their own score. This will provide students with a valuable self-assessment regarding their levels of empathy and create a sense of connection with the goals of the study, which can further be utilized in their pursuit of personal and professional development.

Research and Education Council

To encourage research and foster education in the field of empathy among the participating colleges, a Research and Education Council will be formed, chaired by Dr. Leonard Calabrese. Membership on this council will be selected from faculty and student representatives from AACOM participating colleges. The goal of the council will be to consult on issues during the course of the project, and develop an agenda of critical research questions that should be given priority for being addressed by the profession. Planning for Phase II of the project will also be discussed.

Equally important will be the goal of developing a robust educational agenda that will serve to enhance educational initiatives in empathy and related topics at the curricular level. It also can serve as a resource for the profession in general to raise the educational awareness on the topic of empathy within osteopathic medicine. Jefferson researchers will have a consulting role.

Implications

This project is unique without parallel because of its broad scope and large sample size at the national level. We expect that this project will gain significant attention in the media and among educational researchers in general, and medical education researchers in particular. It has the potential to contribute to changes in the medical education curriculum with great impact, and become a frequently-cited project in the literature of medical education research and empathy for years to come.

We anticipate that the project will yield key publications in peer reviewed journals benefitting from the synergy of the AACOM, the Cleveland Clinic, and Jefferson. Phase I lays the foundation for Phase II, which will be a ground-breaking longitudinal study of changes in empathy as the cohort of osteopathic medical students progresses through the preclinical and clinical phases of medical education.