Stackhouse N, Chamberlain J, Bouwer A, Mexas AM. Development and Validation of a Novel Measure for the Direct Assessment of Empathy in Veterinary Students. J Vet Med Educ. 2020 Jul;47(4):452-464. doi: 10.3138/jvme.0818-096r. Epub 2020 May 15.

PMID: 32412362.


Empathy is a requisite clinical skill for health professionals and empathy scores have been positively associated with professionalism, clinical competency, confidence, well-being, and emotional intelligence. In order to improve empathy in the veterinary field, it is critical to measure the construct of empathy accurately. Most research has relied on self-reporting measures to assess empathy, while some studies have recently implemented the use of simulated client encounters in veterinary education. Building on this research, the aim of the current study was to develop and validate a novel quantitative assessment tool-the Empathy Clinical Evaluation Exercise (ECEX)-designed to measure empathy based on directly observable behaviors, using simulated clients. To evaluate empathy, evaluators used the ECEX to assess the performance of student clinicians in a simulated client encounter, which contained a pre-determined number of opportunities designed to elicit empathic responses from student clinicians. Statistical analysis suggests the test has a high degree of inter-rater reliability. In addition, there was moderate correlation between average empathy scores using ECEX and previously validated measures of empathy, compassion satisfaction, and burnout. Using these methods, we found the majority of students we studied had increased empathy scores at the completion of their primary care rotations. These results provide preliminary support for the use of the ECEX as a direct and quantitative tool for the assessment of empathy. Health professionals could use this novel empathy assessment tool to teach students, evaluate teaching strategies, and improve communication competencies in a wide variety of clinical settings. Our broad aim was to examine the utility of a direct and quantitative assessment tool for measuring empathy-the ECEX-in order to answer the following questions: (1) Does the tool have good inter-rater reliability? (2) Does the tool correlate with previously validated empathy measures? and (3) Does the tool correlate with similar constructs of compassion fatigue and burnout? Our secondary aim was to evaluate the change in empathy scores over the course of a 4-month (16-week) primary care rotation (pre- to -post).