Physician Empathy towards Patients: A Survey in Iranian Teaching Hospitals

Document Type: Research Paper


Department of Public Health, School of Health, Zanjan University of Medical Sciences, Zanjan, Iran


Background and Objectives: Empathy is a key element of physician-patient relations, playing a significant role in effectiveness of health care. This study aimed to evaluate the level of empathy of specialist physicians and advise strategies to promote empathy.

Methods: All 142 specialist physicians practicing in teaching hospitals of Zanjan City (Northern Iran) were surveyed. The 20-item Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy (JSPE) was used as the study tool. The answers were quantified on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (7). Data were summarized using descriptive statistical methods. The mean values were compared by t-test and ANOVA.
Findings: The overall empathy score averaged at 100.7 ± 17.7 falling within the moderate range (max = 140). While the highest score of the empathy dimensions was received by compassionate care (5.22) and the lowest score was belonged to standing in the patient’s shoes (4.89). Female physicians exhibited significantly higher empathy level (107.3 ± 15.6) compared to their male counterparts (96.4 ± 16.6) (P = 0.003). The empathy score mean was found to be significantly higher among physicians with human-mediatedspecialties (113.05 ± 16.2) as compared with technology mediated, tool-mediated, and non-primary care specialties which scored 98 ± 12.12, 98.2 ± 18.7, and 97.1 ± 15.9, respectively (F = 5.14, P = 0.002).

Conclusions: The observed level of empathy among physicians indicates a large room for improvement, particularly among male doctors and technology/tool mediated specialties.  Considering the crucial role of clinical empathy in patient satisfaction and outcome, our results recommend further studies to examine the issue on larger scales and devise intervention strategies if the observed gap will be confirmed.