In the relationship between patients and health care providers, few communicative features are as significant as the providers’ ability to express empathy. A robust empirical literature describes the importance of physician communication skills—particularly those that convey empathy—yet few studies have examined empathic communication by physician assistants, who provide primary care for an increasing number of Americans. The present study examines the empathic communication of physician assistant students in interactions with standardized patients. Over a 6-month period, each student conducted three clinical interviews, each of which was evaluated for empathic communication by the patients, the students’ clinical instructors, and third-party observers. Students also provided saliva samples for genotyping six single-nucleotide polymorphisms on the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) that are linked empirically to empathic behavior. Consistent with recent research, this study adopted a cumulative risk approach wherein students were scored for their number of risky alleles on the single-nucleotide polymorphisms. Results indicated that cumulative risk on OXTR receptor gene predicted lower patient empathy scores as rated by instructors and observers, but not by standardized patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health(social science)