Master's Theses

Date of Award

Spring 1999

Degree Name

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Department

Nursing

Advisor

Eileen Deges Curl

Abstract

The purpose of this research was to help provide the nursing profession with a better understanding of the possible relationships that education and life experiences (age, hospitalization and prior work experience in health care) have with empathy in associate degree nursing students. Travelbee’s (1971) theory of interpersonal communication provided the theoretical framework. Travelbee proposed that nurses who have life experiences similar to clients are better able to predict or to understand behavior and to establish helping relationships. Data from a convenience sample (N=56) were collected at the beginning of a spring semester. The sample consisted of 33 first year and 23 second year associate degree nursing students. The majority of the participants were married white females ranging in age from 19 to 50. Dimensions of empathy behaviors were assessed using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), a 28-item instrument developed by Davis in 1980. The IRI consisted of four seven-item subscales to measure individual differences in empathy. A one-way analysis of variance was performed using the four subscales and the total empathy scores of the IRI as the dependent variables and level of education, hospitalization and prior health care experience as the independent variables. Significant findings primarily related to the Personal Distress subscale which measured the experienced feelings of discomfort and anxiety of the participants when witnessing the negative experience of others. A one-way analysis of variance of the four subscales and the total empathy scores revealed a statistically significant relationship between the Personal Distress subscales and education with the first year students scoring lower than the second year students. A one-way analysis of variance of the four subscales and the total empathy scores revealed a statistically significant relationship between the Personal Distress subscale and prior work experience in the health care field. Additional findings with a one-way analysis of variance of the four subscales and the total empathy scores revealed a statistically significant relationship between first and second year nursing students who had been hospitalized. The Pearson Product Moment Correlation revealed a statistically significant negative correlation between age and the total empathy score of the participants. The results of the investigators did not support Travelbee’s premise that nurses who have life experiences similar to clients are better able to predict or to understand patient behaviors and to establish helping relationships. Possible suggestions for first year students scoring lower than the second year students on the Personal Distress subscale might be that second year students have had more clinical experience and realize the implications of working as a nurse in the real world. First year students who are still novices have not had to confront as many distressing clinical situations. Considerations should be given to expanding the study to include testing of students at least two times during their nursing school education (the first and the final semester of the nursing education). This testing might show whether empathy levels remain consistent across time or if there is a change in the level of empathy. This type of finding would have implications in the nursing education process.

Rights

Copyright 1999 Pamela Wright Calbeck

Comments

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