Study: Experience with poverty doesn't improve student nurses' empathy

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New research shows that nursing students who had personal experience with living in poverty or had volunteer in impoverished communities did not have higher levels of empathy toward patients living in poverty.

Researchers assessed 104 nursing students using the Jefferson Empathy Scale, which is used to measure empathy in healthcare contexts, and a survey that assessed their attitudes on poverty. Using collected demographic information on the students, which included whether they had exposure to poverty, the researchers found that the students who had lived in poverty did not have higher empathy scores. 

In a statement, study author Karen Alexander, PhD, RN, said, “[T]he scores were the same as average. What was more surprising was that those students who had interacted with poverty through volunteer experiences had lower empathy scores than the remainder of the cohort."

The researchers suggest that nursing educators should help students identify and reflect on their personal backgrounds related to poverty in order to address bias. 

Source: Healio