Long before COVID-19, decades of societal, systemic inequalities have contributed to health disparities and educational inequities for ethnic minorities and communities of color.
New results from a first-of-its-kind, national medical education empathy study could provide medical schools with an evidence-based assessment to help them not only improve diversity in admissions but also help address the long-standing health disparities plaguing our nation and harming patient health, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).
“In the wake of last summer’s racial violence and amid the ongoing deadly and disproportionate effects the pandemic is having on people of color, AACOM has re-committed to educating and training osteopathic medical students who represent the totality of our nation,” said Robert A. Cain, DO, president and CEO of AACOM.
The Project in Osteopathic Medical Education and Empathy (POMEE) has found statistically significant and practically important relationships between empathy scores and race and ethnicity in favor of African American and Hispanic/Latinx/Spanish respondents.
Researchers say because empathy is positively correlated with medical school success and patient health, a more empathetic and more diverse health care workforce could lead to improved health outcomes for all patient populations, especially those from minority or underserved communities.
“At a time when African American and Hispanic/Latinx communities are disproportionately suffering from COVID-19, and when medical schools across the nation are working to more actively increase and prioritize diversity in admissions, we should test medical students not only for academic knowledge but also for empathy,” said POMEE’s principal investigator Mohammadreza Hojat, Ph.D., research professor in Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and director of the Jefferson Longitudinal Study at the Asano-Gonnella Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care.
“Research has found a significant association among Jefferson Scale of Empathy score, clinical competence and positive patient outcomes. Our assessment can not only help medical schools select the medical students most likely to become successful and caring clinicians but can also help close some of the troubling racial gaps that persist among medical education institutions,” Hojat said.
Other recent studies have found similar findings for health outcomes for patients of color.
A recent U.S. study found Black newborn babies who are cared for by Black doctors are more likely to survive than those cared for by white doctors. Researchers analyzed 1.8 million hospital births in Florida from 1992 to 2015 and found that deaths were fewer by 257 in 100,000 among Black newborns under the care of Black doctors, when compared with care by white doctors.