UBC Theses and Dissertations
The relationship of age, empathy skill training and cognitive development to nursing students' empathic communication skills Doyle, Katherine Jane
The interactive skill of empathy is essential to the practice of nursing. The British Columbia Institute of Technology General Nursing Diploma Program has implemented an interactive skills training program that includes the skill of empathy in order to assist nursing students to acquire this skill. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationships between the interactive skill of empathy and the developmental variables of level of cognitive development and age and the educational variables of empathy skill training and number of years of post-secondary education in nursing students. Developmentally, the ability most relevant to the cognitive component of empathy is perspective and role-taking which is facilitated by the development of formal operational thinking. The constraints on the development of formal operational thinking consequently are constraints on the development of the cognitive component of empathy. It is this cognitive empathic ability, however, that is considered crucial to nursing. The question therefore arises: To what degree do the cognitive constraints evident in nursing students inhibit or impede their development of empathic interactive skills. Data were collected from two groups of nursing students, one that had experienced the empathy training and the other that had not. The variables of empathic interactive skill and level of cognitive development were measured with Carkhuff's Empathic Understanding in Interpersonal Processes Scale and the Arlin Test of Formal Reasoning respectively. Data on age and number of years of post-secondary education were collected with a Biographical Data Sheet. Hierarchical multiple regression analysis was used to investigate the linear relationship of age, empathy skill training, and cognitive level to the subjects' empathic interactive skill. Two nonparametric tests of chi square were used to examine the degree of independence between empathic interactive skill and the variables of number of years of post-secondary education and the cognitive ability to coordinate multiple frames of reference. The findings of this study indicate that there is a significant linear relationship between empathic interactive skill and empathy skill training. Training accounted for the greatest proportion of variance in empathy scores after age had been removed (53%), F (3, 50) = 30.64, p<.00001. Chi square analysis found that empathic interactive skill was shown to be independent of number of years of post-secondary education and the cognitive ability to coordinate multiple frames of reference. It is recommended that the empathy skill training program be continued with the following suggestions. The contextual, process nature of interaction needs to be emphasized including the constraints and realities of nursing practice that generally are not operating in the counselling paradigm from which the skills program is adopted. Subsequently, more emphasis is required on the facilitative skills, including basic empathy rather than the challenging skills. It is suggested that on-going seminars for faculty to clarify the value and practice of empathy plus a team teaching approach would improve the quality of supervision students receive. Suggestions are made for further research.
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