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Open Access Research article

Measurement and correlates of empathy among female Japanese physicians

Hitomi U Kataoka12*, Norio Koide2, Mohammadreza Hojat3 and Joseph S Gonnella3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Primary Care and Medical Education, Okayama University Medical School, Okayama, Japan

2 Department of General Medicine, Okayama University Medical School, Okayama, Japan

3 Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, USA

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BMC Medical Education 2012, 12:48  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-12-48

Published: 22 June 2012



The measurement of empathy is important in the assessment of physician competence and patient outcomes. The prevailing view is that female physicians have higher empathy scores compared with male physicians. In Japan, the number of female physicians has increased rapidly in the past ten years. In this study, we focused on female Japanese physicians and addressed factors that were associated with their empathic engagement in patient care.


The Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) was translated into Japanese by using the back-translation procedure, and was administered to 285 female Japanese physicians. We designed this study to examine the psychometrics of the JSE and group differences among female Japanese physicians.


The item-total score correlations of the JSE were all positive and statistically significant, ranging from .20 to .54, with a median of .41. The Cronbach’s coefficient alpha was .81. Female physicians who were practicing in “people-oriented” specialties obtained a significantly higher mean empathy score than their counterparts in “procedure-” or “technology-oriented” specialties. In addition, physicians who reported living with their parents in an extended family or living close to their parents, scored higher on the JSE than those who were living alone or in a nuclear family.


Our results provide support for the measurement property and reliability of the JSE in a sample of female Japanese physicians. The observed group differences associated with specialties and living arrangement may have implications for sustaining empathy. In addition, recognizing these factors that reinforce physicians’ empathy may help physicians to avoid career burnout.

Empathy; Female physicians; Career development