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Study Shows Identifying Empathy Is Key to Increasing Diversity in Medicine, Improved Patient Care

January 11, 2021

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

African American and Latinx students score higher on empathy scale

(Bethesda, MD) – Long before COVID-19, decades of societal, systemic inequalities have contributed to health disparities and educational inequities for ethnic minorities and communities of color. Now, results from a first of its kind, national medical education empathy study, co-sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), could provide medical schools with an evidence-based assessment to help them not only improve diversity in admissions, but also help address the long-standing health disparities plaguing our nation and harming patient health.

“In the wake of last summer’s racial violence, and amid the ongoing deadly and disproportionate effects the pandemic is having on people of color, AACOM has re-committed to educating and training osteopathic medical students who represent the totality of our nation,” says Robert A. Cain, DO, President and CEO of AACOM. “Data show us that empathy is a strong predictor for a student’s clinical abilities. Using this evidence-based measure has the potential to improve healthcare outcomes while also serving as a meaningful step toward helping address some of the widespread, systemic inequities that unfairly burden prospective medical students from racial and ethnic minority populations.”

African American and Latinx Medical Students Score Higher in Empathy

The award-winning Project in Osteopathic Medical Education and Empathy (POMEE) has found statistically significant and practically important relationships between empathy scores and race and ethnicity in favor of African American and Hispanic/Latinx/Spanish respondents. Because empathy is positively correlated with medical school success and patient health, a more empathetic and more diverse healthcare workforce could lead to improved health outcomes for all patient populations, especially those from minority or underserved communities.

AACOM will host a live virtual forum with the project’s principal investigator and co-sponsors on Thursday, January 14 from 12 – 1 PM ET to fully elaborate on the study and answer questions from attendees. There is no cost to attend and registration is open to the public.

Implications for More Diverse Medical School Admissions

“At a time when African American and Hispanic/Latinx communities are disproportionately suffering from COVID-19, and when medical schools across the nation are working to more actively increase and prioritize diversity in admissions, we should test medical students not only for academic knowledge but also for empathy,” says POMEE’s principal investigator Mohammadreza Hojat, PhD, research professor in Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, and director of the Jefferson Longitudinal Study at the Asano-Gonnella Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care. “Research has found a significant association among Jefferson Scale of Empathy score, clinical competence, and positive patient outcomes. Our assessment can not only help medical schools select the medical students most likely to become successful and caring clinicians but can also help close some of the troubling racial gaps that persist among medical education institutions.”

POMEE is sponsored by AACOM in collaboration with the Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and Leonard Calabrese, DO, Cleveland Clinic’s R.J. Fasenmeyer Chair of Clinical Immunology and Theodore F. Classen, DO, Chair in Osteopathic Research and Education. For more information about POMEE, visit aacom.org/empathy.

About AACOM

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) leads and advocates for the full continuum of osteopathic medical education to improve the health of the public. Founded in 1898 to support and assist the nation's osteopathic medical schools, AACOM represents all 37 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine—educating nearly 31,000 future physicians, 25 percent of all US medical students—at 58 teaching locations in 33 US states, as well as osteopathic graduate medical education professionals and trainees at US medical centers, hospitals, clinics, and health systems.

AACOM provides leadership for the osteopathic medical education community by promoting excellence in medical education, research, and service, and by fostering innovation and quality across the continuum of osteopathic medical education to improve the health of the American public.

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Joseph Shapiro
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jshapiro@aacom.org

Christine DeCarlo
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