Past studies examining the cognitive empathy of medical school graduates grouped the various residency selections vs. parsing them out. This study examines both affective and cognitive empathy scores of osteopathic medical school graduates entering eleven different residency specialties.
Participants from the Campbell University Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine (CUSOM) classes of 2017-2019 completed the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale (BEES; measuring affective empathy) and the Jefferson Scale of Empathy, Student version (JSE-S; measuring cognitive empathy). Empathy scores were compared to residency choice upon graduation. The specialty choices were broken into two groups: Core specialties (i.e., people-oriented) that include Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/Gyn), Pediatrics, and Psychiatry. The remaining specialties are considered Non-Core specialties (i.e., technical/procedure-oriented) and included Anesthesiology, Diagnostic Radiology, Emergency Medicine, General Surgery, Neurology, and Orthopedics. Results are compared to data from the nationwide Project in Osteopathic Medical Education and Empathy (POMEE).
Women graduates tended to have larger BEES and JSE-S scores than men. Affective empathy scores were the largest for students selecting Core specialties. Four of these Core specialties were in the top four positions out of the eleven specialties selected by eight or more graduates. None of the eleven specialties was ranked higher than the 50th percentile compared to BEES score norms. Cognitive empathy scores were also the largest for students selecting Core specialties. All five of the Core specialties were in the top six positions out of the eleven specialties. None of the eleven specialties ranked greater than the 39th percentile when compared to OMS-III and OMS-IV POMEE data. Only women entering Psychiatry had a JSE-S score that was greater than the 50th percentile.
Osteopathic graduates selecting the five Core specialties have BEES and JSE-S scores that are, usually, larger than students entering Non-Core specialties. For either survey instrument, both Pediatrics and Family Medicine were first and second out of a possible 11 positions, respectively. Most CUSOM graduates had JSE-S scores lower than their peers in other osteopathic medical schools that participated in the POMEE study. When the CUSOM data are compared to allopathic data, there is no clear evidence that osteopathic students have substantially higher affective or cognitive empathy scores than their allopathic peers. Therefore, it appears that medical students who select osteopathy for its tenant of a more holistic approach to patient care are no more empathetic than students studying allopathic medicine. Several suggestions are made on how to potentially increase student empathy during undergraduate medical education.

© The Author(s) under exclusive licence to International Association of Medical Science Educators 2022.