Empathy in occupational therapy students: a cross- sectional study at a Spanish university
Introduction Empathy is an important interpersonal skill and a fundamental component in the professional–patient relationship, being the basis for implementing person-centred practice. In several studies, a decrease in empathy levels throughout training in medicine, nursing or dentistry, among others, has been shown. There are few studies on the occupational therapy branch of healthcare. The aim was to determine the degree of empathy perceived by students of occupational therapy at a Spanish university, as well as to analyse the differences between empathy levels according to the different degree courses and gender. Methods A descriptive cross-sectional study was designed with a sample of 221 occupational therapy students from a Spanish university. The Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) and the Jefferson Scale of Empathy-Health Profession Student’s Spanish version (JSPE-HPS-S) were used as outcome measures. Results According to the results found, high level of empathy was found on all dimension of the IRI (69.84 (9.80)) and the JSPE-HPS-S (122 (94–140)). Although high levels of empathy among occupational therapy students are observed in all degree courses, no significant differences were found between them. Statistically significant differences and a moderate effect size (r) were found between the variables according to the gender of the participants, with females showing greater empathy in the overall scores of the IRI as well as in the JSPE-HPS-S (p=0.002, r=0.212; p=0.001, r=0.327, respectively). Conclusions Empathy is an essential competence for the development of quality occupational therapy practice. According to the results and although occupational therapy students showed high levels of empathy, it is important to pay attention to the evolution of empathy and to provide students with learning experiences that prevent its possible decline.
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