"The physician-patient relationship is determined by many factors including empathy and communication. Throughout the four years of medical school, it has been shown that students demonstrate a significant decline in empathy in their M1 and M3 years. We are studying the effect of journaling on empathy in M3 medical students because this group has been shown to have the largest decline in empathy and represents a significant period of transition in medical education.
Journaling offers students an opportunity for private personal reflection that may help to maintain empathy during the difficult M3 clinical year and may improve communication skills between students and their patients. Because journaling is a private and unrehearsed activity, it may have an advantage over other activities that are intended for learning empathy, such as role playing. It is hoped that journaling will offer the student an opportunity for reflection and exploration that he or she may otherwise discard or leave untapped. Because journaling is personal and can be completed at each student’s discretion, it is an opportunity for students to address real feelings and it does not encourage students to pretend to feel or to demonstrate feigned empathy, as is often the case with role playing.
Students are assigned to either a control group, which does not engage in journaling or to the case group, which is encouraged (but not assigned) to complete journaling at their discretion. We are using the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale (BEES), designed by Dr. Albert Mehrabian at UCLA, to measure empathy. Both groups of students took the BEES prior to the start of the M3 year in order to determine baseline scores. The students also complete the scale at three-month intervals throughout their third year. Survey results will be analyzed to determine the effectiveness of journaling in helping to maintain empathy in third year medical students.
Working with the staff at the Center for Patient Care and Outcomes Research (PCOR) has allowed me to learn about all elements of the research process, from designing a study to recruiting subjects, to collecting results efficiently. This project has been an invaluable experience and I look forward to analyzing the results and ultimately helping to make an impact on the future of M3 education at MCW."
Brittany received her MD from the Medical College of Wisconsin in May, 2011. She is now an Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Resident at the Medical College of Wisconsin.