J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2023 Oct 1;94(2S):S47-S52. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000003262.
BACKGROUND: Creating empathetic health care professionals is critical to addressing the health equity challenges of today, particularly because it relates to vulnerable populations.
METHODS: To assess the impact of the Johns Hopkins Center for AIDS Research Generation Tomorrow Summer Health Disparities Scholars (GTSHDS) program on students’ empathy toward individuals living with substance use disorder and differential impact on empathy related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Attitudes towards Mental Illness Questionnaire (AMIQ), an assessment of stigmatizing attitudes, was administered. Preprogram and postprogram participation AMIQ survey data were compared using paired t tests to explore changes within the program year. Unpaired t tests were used to characterize differences between the mean scores across the 2 student cohorts.
RESULTS: Both GTSHDS cohorts displayed postprogram increase in empathy. Mean 2019 cohort AMIQ scores shifting from -1.4 (SD 2.01) to -0.8 (SD 2.35) (P = 0.54), and the 2022 cohort shifting from -3.67 (SD 2.01) to -3 (SD 1.61) (P = 0.79). On average, individual scores improved by 2.2 (SD 1.65) points in the 2019 cohort and 2.4 (SD 1.86) points in the 2022 cohort (P = 0.83). Although these were not statistically significant, they suggested a trend toward more empathy.
CONCLUSIONS: Preliminary data suggest that programs such as GTSHDS that expose students to various aspects of health care principles can prepare future health care professionals in a manner that may reduce health care disparities. Future research with larger population sizes is needed to understand the impacts of the curriculum on empathy and related concepts to achieving health equity.