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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01921

The Positive Association Between Empathy and Self-Esteem in Chinese Medical Students: A Multi-Institutional Study

 Jessica Thai1, Xu-Dong Zhao2, 3, 4*,  Lei Huang5, 6,  Yuan Zhong7,  Hao Peng2 and  Jessica Koran1
  • 1College of Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, United States
  • 2School of Medicine, Tongji University, China
  • 3Shanghai East Hospital, Tongji University School of Medicine, China
  • 4Shanghai Pudong New Area Mental Health Center, China
  • 5Department of Psychiatry, Tongji University, China
  • 6Medical Education Division, Shanghai Tongji Hospital, Tongji University School of Medicine, China
  • 7Medical Education Division, Tongji University, China

Background: Empathy is an important element of the physician-patient relationship for medical students. However, most studies have shown that it declines during undergraduate medical education. Less explored in the literature is how empathy interrelates with the psychological elements of medical students, in particular self-esteem. This study examined the relationship between empathy and self-esteem to explore other possible ways to improve medical students’ empathy.
Methods: A stratified sampling strategy was used to select 1690 medical students from 3 medical institutions in Shanghai to participate in this study. The questionnaires used to collect data included the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy-Student Version (JSPE-S), the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (RSES), and a self-made inventory on personal information. Descriptive analysis, independent t-test, One-Way ANOVA, and linear regression were used to analyze the data.
Results: The mean empathy score among medical students was 102.73±12.64. “age,” “perception of the importance of empathy,” “academic pressure,” “desire to be a doctor after graduation,” and “self-esteem” were significant predictors of empathy (P< 0.05) and the adjusted R2 was 0.462. The correlation matrix between empathy and self-esteem was significant (r=0.510, P < 0.01). Self-esteem explained 15.5% of the variation of empathy in the final regression model.
Conclusions: There was a positive association between self-esteem and empathy. Self-esteem should be considered as one of the many potential determinant factors which contribute to medical students’ empathy in addition to age, academic pressure, attitude towards empathy and future career, which all also play a critical role in medical student empathy. Enhancing medical students’ self-esteem may be an efficacious way to improve medical students’ empathy.

Keywords: Empathy, self-esteem, Medical student, China, Survey

Received: 09 Apr 2019; Accepted: 05 Aug 2019.

Edited by:

Monica Pellerone, Kore University of Enna, Italy

Reviewed by:

Tiziana Ramaci, Kore University of Enna, Italy
Thelma Quince, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2019 Thai, Zhao, Huang, Zhong, Peng and Koran. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Xu-Dong Zhao, Tongji University, School of Medicine, Shanghai, 200092, Shanghai Municipality, China,