Background: Clinical empathy is associated with improved patient outcomes, but it is often difficult to teach to medical students. Our survey attempted to understand the perception of medical students regarding role of empathy in patient outcomes and ways to improve empathy training for medical students

Methods: A qualtrics survey was distributed to 456 medical students at Medical college of Wisconsin(M3 and M4) between August 2018 and September 2018. Responses were anonymous, and a response rate of 39% was achieved.A Chi-square analysis was performed to analyze differences between males and females as well as between M3 and M4 students. Students who preferred not to identify their gender were excluded from gender-based analysis

Results: More than 90% of the students perceived empathy as important component of patient care and felt it increased patients satisfaction and outcomes.50% of M4 students (n=38) believed that working with attending physicians increased their understanding of the importance of compassion and empathy in patient care which was significantly more than the 34.3% of M3 students (n=36) (p-value=0.034). 100% of females (n=78) and 89.2% of males (n=91) believed that providing empathy and compassion in patient care improved patient outcomes (p=0.003). 45% students felt that the current course for teaching empathy is inadequate and needs innovation. Majority of students felt daily rounding/bedside as the best way to teach empathy. But 66% also felt the need for focused case based discussion, workshop, narrative and reflective writing sessions as additional methods of teaching. Majority of students felt stress of medical school and limited time with the patients(busy service) as a barrier to empathy training. Gender preferences for empathy education methods also proved to be significantly different. Among females, 2.6% (n=2) felt that auditorium lectures were an effective method to learn empathy in medical school while 10.8% of males (n=11) felt it could be effective (p=0.035). Additionally, 53.8% of females and 32.4% of males felt that standardized patient encounters such as the objective structured clinical exams (OSCE) would be an effective medium for empathy education (p=0.004).

Conclusions: MCW students perceive empathy as an important component of patient care and outcome. Empathetic attending physicians on a rotation has positive impact on the medical students. Our data highlights the need for innovation in curriculum for teaching empathy. The current model of teaching empathy can be greatly improved by increasing patient interaction and individualizing empathy education.