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Poster 8

Empathy scores following an interactive experts by experience session for sonography students: A pilot study

Gill Harrison - Programme Director | School of Health Sciences

Allison Harris - Ultrasound Clinical Co-ordinator | School of Health Sciences

Empathy and compassion are important skills needed for all areas of life, but particularly in the healthcare setting (Bell, 2018; Reiss, 2017). This study aimed to assess medical ultrasound students’ opinions of an interactive session with ‘experts by experience’, 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 a short Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (Spreng et al, 2009) before and after the service user session. This gave an empathy score, which could be compared against published norms and pre/post session. Students and service users completed an evaluation questionnaire following the session to elicit views and provide suggestions for future iterations. Students reflected 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 mean empathy scores increased from 48.1 to 51.9, with 80% of students showing increased empathy scores. The second cohort mean 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, Spreng et al, 2009). Empathy scores of the male students increased more than the female. The event met or exceeded students’ expectations.


Students valued the ‘candid and frank’ exchange with service users. Empathy levels increased or remained the same for three quarters of students, suggesting that talking to experts by experience might raise empathy levels. Student reflection highlighted various ways to change practice in response to discussion with experts, which could improve communication, care and patient satisfaction. Findings could be transferable to other areas of practice.


Bell, H. (2018) ‘Creative Interventions for Teaching Empathy in the Counseling Classroom’, Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 13 (1), pp. 106.

Riess, H. (2017) ‘The science of empathy’, Journal of Patient Experience, 4 (2), pp. 74-77.

Spreng, R. McKinnon, M. Mar, R. and Levine, B. (2009) The Toronto Empathy Questionnaire: Scale development and initial validation of a factor-analytic solution to multiple empathy measures. Journal of Personality Assessment, 91(1), pp. 62–71