Public Health physicians and empathy: are we really emphatic? The Jefferson Scale applied to Italian resident doctors in Public Health.

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Large gaps in care quality resulting from ineffective communication between health providers, patients, and other health care organizations have been documented. Research suggests that effective, empathic communication positively influences health outcomes. Many studies focused on the assessment of clinicians empathy, while there is still a lack of evidence on therole and level of empathy for public health medical doctors,especially during their postgraduate education. The aim of this study was to assess empathy level of public health residents,and to investigate differences in empathy scores using a validated questionnaire.The Italian version of the Jefferson scale of Physician Empathy was mailed to all the resident doctors of the Italian Schools in Hygiene and Public Health during the month of April 2013.Individual Empathy Scores (IES) were calculated, as well as descriptive statistics for the items and scale levels. The difference in empathy scores according to physician’s gender,age class, career rank, place of residency, work experiences(medical direction vs research career) were examined trough t test or ANOVA as appropriate.352 out of 402 resident doctors replied the questionnaire(response rate 87%). The mean of IES was 118.5 (SD 13.4;range = 54-140; median = 120). There were no IES differences between career rank (p = 0.3), age class (p = 0.2), and place of residency (p = 0.07), while females had higher IES than males(120.3 vs 114.9; p < 0.01). Physicians who have had experience in healthcare administration reported higher IES compared to those who only performed research activity (120.4 vs 117.1;p = 0.02). In addition the respondent physicians believe that the development of social skills should be promoted withgreater attention during the undergraduate education (78%)and during the postgraduate education in public health (65%).Our results show a good level of IES in the public health residents, with some significant differences according togender and physicians work experience. Furthermore, considering empathy and cultural competence essential for publichealth professionals in order to provide and manage high quality patient-centred care, the widespread demand for specific training outlined by this survey should be taken into adequate account.
Original languageItalian
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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