An assessment of dental students' empathy levels in Malaysia

Muneer G. Babar1, Hanan Omar1, Lee P. Lim1, Saad A. Khan1, Shahid Mitha1, Siti F.B. Ahmad2 and Syed S. Hasan3

1International Medical University, Jalan Jalil Perkasa 19, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, 57000, Malaysia

2Faculty of Dentistry, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

3The University of Queensland, 20 Cornwell Street, Woolloongabba, 4102, Brisbane, Australia

Submitted: 02/07/2013; Accepted: 12/10/2013; Published: 21/11/2013

Int J Med Educ. 2013; 4:223-229; doi: 10.5116/ijme.5259.4513

© 2013 Muneer G. Babar 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: To examine the validity and reliability of the Jefferson Scale of Empathy-Health Care Provider Student version (JSE-HPS) in a sample of dental students in Malaysia, with the secondary aim of assessing empathy levels in first to final year dental students in public and private universities in Malaysia.

Methods: The JSE-HPS was administered to 582 first to fifth (final) year dental students; 441 were enrolled at two public universities and 141 at a private university in Malaysia. Both descriptive and inferential statistics were performed using SPSS® version 18.

Results: The JSE-HPS demonstrated good internal consistency (Cronbach's α = 0.70). A three-factor solution emerged and included 'perspective taking', 'compassionate care' and 'standing in patient's shoes' factors, accounting for 27.7%, 13.9%, and 6.3% of the variance, respectively. The total mean empathy score was 84.11±9.80, where the actual scores ranged from a low of 22.05 to a high of 133.35. Overall, male students (84.97±11.12) were more empathic than female students (83.78±9.24). Fourth-year students were more empathic than students in other undergraduate years, and public university students had significantly higher mean empathy score compared to those enrolled at a private university (84.74 versus 82.13, p=0.001).

Conclusions: This study confirms the construct validity and internal consistency of the JSE-HPS for measuring empathy in dental students. Empathy scores among students vary depending on type of university and year of study. Future studies, preferably longitudinal in design should explore changes in empathy among dental students during progression through undergraduate courses.