Does Empathy Change over the Academic Programs?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013: 10:40 AM

Donna Taliaferro, RN, PhD
School of Advanced Studies, University of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ
Holly J. Diesel, PhD, RN
Nursing, Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes Jewish College, St. Louis, MO

Learning Objective 1: Describe the level of empathy in two nursing schools at the beginning of the program in Finland and in the US.

Learning Objective 2: Discuss the importance of maintaining empathy during the academic program.

Nursing educators have traditionally been challenged to provide the necessary education to address licensing in the US and around the world.  However, faculty have noticed during the educational process, students may change the way in which they demonstrate caring behaviors with altered degrees of empathy.  Educators may have an influence in this without knowing it.  Nursing faculty are required to combine scientific knowledge with technical skills but tend to omit the unique components of the nurse-patient, nurse-nurse relationships.  Empathy is a core component of these relationships and has a direct link to patient outcomes and working relationships. Many state that empathy is a basic human need.  Being able to be empathic is critical when patients are at their most vulnerable state.

There is a cost to the facility as a result in dealing with employees that are stressed.  Increased absenteeism and morale problems result in poor of quality of care.

Loss of empathy during the academic program sets students up for problems within their first job and potential for compassion fatigue early on.  Phase I of a longitudinal study between a school in the US and one in Finland has been completed.  While scores on the Jefferson Empathy Scale are within a general range of normed scores, there are several students to be concerned about.  Low empathy scores at the beginning of a program may be a serious outcome for the end of the program.  The Jefferson Empathy Scale has strong reliability within medicine, nursing and other health care persons.  Interventions may be developed to intervene during the academic programs to preserve the inherent empathy that is a major reason to go to nursing school.