The positive association between empathy and self-esteem in chinese medical students: A multi-institutional study

Lei Huang, Jessica Thai, Yuan Zhong, Hao Peng, Jessica Koran, Xu Dong Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: Empathy is an important element of the physician-patient relationship and is a critical personality trait for medical students. However, research has shown that it declines during undergraduate medical education. It is still unclear how empathy interrelates with the psychological elements of medical students, in particular, self-esteem. This study examined the relationship between empathy and self-esteem to explore other possible methods to improve medical students’ empathy. Methods: A stratified sampling strategy was used to select 1690 medical students from 3 medical institutions in Shanghai as study participants. The questionnaires used to collect data included the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy-Student Version (JSPE-S), the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (RSES), and a self-made inventory on personal information. Descriptive analysis, independent t-test, One-Way ANOVA, and linear regression were used to analyze the data. Results: The mean empathy score among medical students was 102.73 with SD = 12.64. Multiple regression analysis revealed that, “age,” “perception of the importance of empathy,” “academic pressure,” “desire to be a doctor after graduation,” and “self-esteem” were significant predictors of empathy (P < 0.05) and the adjusted R2 was 0.462. The correlation matrix between empathy and self-esteem was significant (r = 0.510, P < 0.01). Self-esteem explained 15.5% of the variation of empathy in the final regression model. Conclusion: There was a positive association between self-esteem and empathy. Self-esteem is one of many factors which contribute to medical students’ empathy. Age, academic pressure, attitude toward empathy and future career also play a critical role in medical student empathy. Enhancing medical students’ self-esteem may be an efficacious way to improve medical students’ empathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1921
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAUG
StatePublished - 2019


  • China
  • Empathy
  • Medical student
  • Self-esteem
  • Survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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