Correlates of physician empathy and knowledge of cancer pain management

Lisa Korostoff Rooney, University of Pennsylvania


Cancer pain is an issue of crucial importance in medicine. It is well documented in the medical literature that cancer pain has generally been inadequately managed. Persuasive evidence in the psychological literature indicates that empathy motivates helping behavior. Pain management is illustrative of one of the most essential helping behaviors in a physician's repertoire of skills. This study investigated the relationship between physician empathy and knowledge of effective cancer pain management. The study sample was comprised of 371 physicians (M = 328, F = 43) from four specialties: (a) hematology, (b) oncology, (c) surgery, and (d) gynecology. The subjects were assigned to two samples by random sampling stratified by specialty. The subjects completed the Cancer Pain Management Survey (CPMS), a brief author constructed competency measure to assess knowledge of cancer pain management, and two empathy scales: the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index (1980), a multidimensional measure of empathy, and the Hogan Empathy Scale (1969), a measure of cognitive empathy. Data analyses were conducted using a stepwise multiple regression analysis, a cross-validation analysis, analyses of variance, and post hoc tests. The expectation that empathy would relate to knowledge of pain management was affirmed. Scores on the two empathy measures, clinical experience, and age comprised the four significant predictors in the regression analysis. Cross-validation shrinkage was 4%. Analyses of variance and post hoc tests revealed that the females scored significantly higher on the CPMS, the IRI total score, and the IRI Empathic Concern and Fantasy subscales. On the CPMS, analysis of variance and post hoc tests revealed that hematologists and oncologists scored significantly higher than gynecologists and surgeons. In addition, physicians who reported that they "Very effectively" convey a sense of warmth and caring to their patients scored significantly higher on the CPMS and the empathy scales. Thus, physicians' self-assessed skill in communicating empathy to their patients was directly reflected in their empathy scores and in their knowledge of cancer pain management. Implications are discussed for the education and training of physicians. These findings underscore the importance of the trend toward more humanistically oriented medical education.

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Recommended Citation

Rooney, Lisa Korostoff, "Correlates of physician empathy and knowledge of cancer pain management" (1990). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9026633.