ORIGINAL RESEARCH 2198 DOWNLOADS

Underlying construct of empathy, optimism, and burnout in medical students

Mohammadreza Hojat, Michael Vergare, Gerald Isenberg, Mitchell Cohen and John Spandorfer

Sidney Kimmel (formerly Jefferson) Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, USA

Submitted: 05/11/2014; Accepted: 24/01/2015; Published: 29/01/2015

Int J Med Educ. 2015; 6:12-16; doi: 10.5116/ijme.54c3.60cd

© 2015 Mohammadreza Hojat 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: This study was designed to explore the underlying construct of measures of empathy, optimism, and burnout in medical students.

Methods: Three instruments for measuring empathy (Jefferson Scale of Empathy, JSE); Optimism (the Life Orientation Test-Revised, LOT-R); and burnout (the Maslach Burnout Inventory, MBI, which includes three scales of Emotional Exhaustion, Depersonalization, and Personal Accomplishment) were administered to 265 third-year students at Sidney Kimmel (formerly Jefferson) Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. Data were subjected to factor analysis to examine relationships among measures of empathy, optimism, and burnout in a multivariate statistical model.

Results: Factor analysis (principal component with oblique rotation) resulted in two underlying constructs, each with an eigenvalue greater than one. The first factor involved "positive personality attributes" (factor coefficients greater than .58 for measures of empathy, optimism, and personal accomplishment). The second factor involved "negative personality attributes" (factor coefficients greater than .78 for measures of emotional exhaustion, and depersonalization).

Conclusions: Results confirmed that an association exists between empathy in the context of patient care and personality characteristics that are conducive to relationship building, and considered to be "positive personality attributes," as opposed to personality characteristics that are considered as "negative personality attributes" that are detrimental to interpersonal relationships. Implications for the professional development of physicians-in-training and in-practice are discussed.