Empathy Scores following an Interactive service user session for Sonography Students: A Pilot Study

Gill Harrison, Allison Harris, School of Health Sciences, City University of London


Empathy and compassion are deemed to be important skills needed for working in the healthcare setting. Sonographers are expected to deliver difficult news to patients, often under challenging circumstances, without warning and in some cases when unsure of the actual diagnosis. This study aims to assess medical ultrasound students’ opinions of a new interactive service user and carers session, which was introduced to the programme in June 2017. It also investigated whether empathy scores changed in response to the interaction with service users.


Students were invited to participate in the study by completing the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (Spreng et al, 2009) before and after the service user session. Students and service users also completed a short questionnaire at the end of the session, for evaluation and to provide suggestions for future iterations. Students were asked to reflect on what they had learnt and how it might impact on their practice. Twenty three students (48%) participated in the study at a single institution across two cohorts.


Twenty empathy scores were valid. In the first cohort average empathy scores increased from 48.1 to 51.9 with 80% of students showing increased empathy score, whereas the second cohort average empathy scores remained the same pre and post session at 51.3, with 40% increasing, 40% reducing and 20% remaining the same after the session, (published norms 44.5 – 47). The event met or exceeded students’ expectations, despite one student thinking they would not ‘get anything out of it’.


Students valued the ‘candid and frank’ exchange with service users. Empathy levels increased or remained the same three quarters of students. Various ways to change practice in light of this session, which would impact on patient care and communication, were highlighted.


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