Effects of a Combined Didactic and Experiential Death Education/Empathy Training Program on Death Anxiety and Empathic Ability of Medical Students
Reed, Deborah Lynn
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The problem. The majority of medical students are not being adequately prepared to communicate empathically with dying patients. Students' personal anxieties and fear of death may lessen and their empathic interpersonal skills increase with formal academic preparation This study examined the effects of a death education course which included empathic communication skills training specifically related to interaction with the terminally ill patient. Procedures. The research design was an experimental pretest-posttest comparison group design. The experimental treatment group consisted of 12 randomly assigned second-year medical students who were given a combined didactic and experiential death education/empathy skills training program in conjunction with 10 weekly videotaped relationship-building sessions with a terminally ill cancer patient. The comparison group consisted of 11 second-year medical students who attended the 10 weekly relationship-building sessions with a terminally ill cancer patient but received no educational intervention or feedback. The dependent measures were students' ratings of empathic understanding on the BCRI Empathic Understanding Subscale (MO-Form), patients' ratings of their student's empathy on the BLRI Empathic Understanding Subscale (0s-Form), and two trained observers' ratings of students' communicated empathy displayed on videotape using the Truax and Carkhuff Accurate Empathy Scale. A 2 (Group) x 2 (Testing Occasion) repeated measures ANOVA was used to statistically analyze each dependent measure. Findinqs. There were no statistically significant differences between the experimental and comparison groups (p > .05) on the self-report measures of students' death anxiety, students' ratings of empathic understanding, or on the patients' ratings of student empathy. However, the objective trained observers rated the experimental group students as displaying significantly more empathic communicative behaviors (p < .05) than the comparison group students. Conclusions. The present study demonstrated that medical students who receive trainina in empathic communication skills 1s specifically related to interaction with terminally ill cancer patients display significantly higher levels of communicated empathy than untrained medical students. Recommendations. Due to the inconclusive results from the patients' ratings of students' empathy, further research is necessary to substantially support the inclusion of such a training program in the medical curriculum.
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