An assessment of undergraduate paramedic students' empathy levels

Brett Williams1, Malcolm Boyle1, Richard Brightwell2, Scott Devenish3, Peter Hartley4, Michael McCall4, Paula McMullen4, Graham Munro5, Peter O’Meara6 and Vanessa Webb1

1Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practice, Monash University, Australia

2Paramedical Science, Faculty of Computing, Health and Science, Edith Cowan University, Australia

3School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, Australia

4Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science, Victoria University, Australia

5School of Biomedical Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Australia

6Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe Rural Health School, Australia

Submitted: 30/01/2012; Accepted: 21/05/2012; Published: 25/05/2012

Int J Med Educ. 2012; 3:98-102; doi: 10.5116/ijme.4fba.9190

© 2012 Brett Williams et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use of work provided the original work is properly cited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to assess the extent of empathy in paramedic students across seven Australian universities.

Methods: A cross-sectional study using a paper-based questionnaire employing a convenience sample of first, second, and third year undergraduate paramedic students. Student empathy levels were measured using the Medical Condition Regard Scale (MCRS).

Results: A total of 783 students participated in the study of which 57% were females. The medical conditions: intellectual disability, attempted suicide, and acute mental illness all produced mean scores above 50 suggesting good empathetic regard, while patients presenting with substance abuse produced the lowest mean score (M=41.57, SD= 12.29). There was a statistically significant difference between males (M=49.79) and females (M=51.61) for patients with intellectual disability (t[sub](778)[/sub]=2.76, p=0.006).

Conclusions: The findings from this study found that student reported poor empathetic regard for patients with substance abuse, while female students report higher levels of empathy than their male colleagues across each medical condition. The overall findings provide a framework for educators to begin constructing guidelines focusing on the need to incorporate, promote and instil empathy into paramedic students in order to better prepare them for future out-of-hospital healthcare practice.