Levels of empathy in undergraduate occupational therapy students Academic Article uri icon


  • Empathy is an important attribute for occupational therapists in establishing rapport and in better understanding their clients. However, empathy can be compromised by high workloads, personal stressors and pressures to demonstrate efficacy. Occupational therapists also work with patients from a variety of diagnostic groups. The objective of this study was to determine the extent of empathy and attitudes towards clients amongst undergraduate occupational therapy students at one Australian University. A cross-sectional study was undertaken using a written survey of the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy (JSPE) and the Medical Condition Regard Scale. Overall, a strong level of empathy was reported amongst students. Four medical conditions that occupational therapists work with (stroke, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and depression) were held in high regard. Substance abuse, however, was held in comparatively low regard. Overall, the year of study appeared to have no significant impact on the students' empathy. Despite having a lower reported empathy level than found in health professions from other studies using the JSPE, occupational therapy students were found to have a good level of empathy. Of concern, however, was the bias reported against the medical condition of substance abuse, highlighting that the there may be a need to reinforce that patients from this diagnostic group are equally deserving of quality care irrespective of their clinical condition. Recommendations for future research include completing a longitudinal study of occupational therapy students' empathy levels and investigating the empathy levels of occupational therapists working with different client groups. Limitations of the study include the convenience sampling of occupational therapy students enrolled at one university which limits the generalizability of the results to groups of participants with similar characteristics.


  • Brown, Ted
  • Williams, Brett
  • Boyle, Malcolm
  • Molloy, Andrew
  • McKenna, Lisa
  • Molloy, Liz
  • Lewis, Belinda

publication date

  • September 2010

has subject area