Year 2021
September 2021


Abstract Title
Using Qualitative Methods to Guide Scale Development for Clinician Empathy in Healthcare Professionals and Students



Geriatric Education and Research Institute1, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital2

Background & Hypothesis

Healthcare professionals’ empathetic behaviours during treatment are associated with better care outcomes but could decrease during the clinical training period. While there is a need to develop empathy, perspectives on empathy among healthcare professionals and medical students are not well understood in a multicultural East-Asian context and there is a lack of localised scales to measure empathy beyond the Jefferson Scale of Empathy. This qualitative study seeks to inform the development of such a scale in the Singapore healthcare setting.



A modified grounded theory (GT) approach involving focus groups, data collection and analysis was done simultaneously to understand the construct ‘clinician empathy’ through which the scale’s items were developed. Healthcare professionals, students with clinical experience, and patients were recruited from two hospitals and two educational institutions.



Fourteen focus group discussions were conducted involving a total of 69 participants (21 healthcare professionals, 21 medical students, 18 nursing students and 9 patients). A portrait of clinician empathy emerged consisting of 7 themes: values, perspective taking, affective relating, warmth, thoughtful consideration, involving engagement, endearing communication. 34 sub-themes were translated into a list of 70 scale items.

Discussion & Conclusion

Findings suggest certain cognitive-emotive-behavioural tendencies abound for individuals who reported frequently experiencing empathy in the clinical setting such as engaging in perspective taking, relating to patients authentically, feelings of warmth, considerate to the bio-psycho-social needs of patients, deep engagement to understand so as to help/comfort, communicating endearingly and empathetic valuation. These empathetic manifestations indicate measurability and scale items are currently being pilot tested and validated.