Will a structured 6-week module of Motivational Interviewing (MI) improve the level of empathy in 2nd year physical therapy students?


The level of empathy in healthcare providers has important consequences for health outcomes. Research shows that patients consider empathy a key factor in their definition of healthcare quality and that the level of health provider empathy and compassion can improve patient adherence to treatment and health outcomes.1
A 2011 systematic review2 concluded that empathy declined during medical school and residency. Similar results were reported for PT students3 with the conclusion that physical therapy educators should determine effective methods to improve the level of empathetic communication in PT students before they graduate as beginning health providers. Given the relationship between Motivational Interviewing (MI) and accurate empathy4, we proposed that teaching a structured module of MI to 2nd year PT students would increase the level of empathy in these students. Therefore, the aim of our study was to investigate whether a 6-week structured course of MI can significantly increase empathy in 2nd year PT students.


Following IRB approval, 2nd year PT students were recruited and provided information on the nature of the research, risks and benefits. Participating 2nd year PT students (n=37), who had given their written consent, completed a standardized questionnaire (Toronto Empathy Questionnaire; TEQ), pre and post a structured 6-week module on MI. To ensure integrity and standardization of TEQ administration, a pilot test was completed. 37 students completed both pre and post TEQ. There was complete anonymity between PT students who completed the TEQ and investigators. The 6-week MI module was part of a 1 credit hour class, meeting 1x/wk. Students had assigned weekly reading from the textbook.5 Class sessions, built upon the pre-reading, were interactive and included lecture, video demonstrations of MI, practice with MI consistent responses, role playing, quizzes, and a final exam.


The scores for each of the 16 items and overall TEQ score were reduced to X+SD. The pre/post test scores for each item, overall, and gender, were analyzed using a two tail paired t-test with p <0.05. There was no significant change in the overall pre/post TEQ score; p >0.05. As a group, [n=37], there were significant pre/post differences on TEQ items 4, 7, and 9; p<0.05, when gender was considered, TEQ item 11 was significantly different; p<0.05. All significant questionnaire items were in the direction of increasing the level of empathy.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

Our results indicate that a 6-week module can increase some items of the TEQ, however there was no significant overall change in empathy in our 2nd year PT students. Given the importance of empathy to excellence in health care and physical therapy education we are now conceptualizing how to integrate principles of empathy throughout the curricula, in addition to the 6-week module.


1. Lown B, Rosen J, Marttila J. An Agenda For Improving Compassionate Care: A Survey Shows About Half Of Patients Say Such Care Is Missing. Health Affairs. 2011; 30(9):1772-1778.
2. Neumann M, Edelhauser F, et.al. Empathy Decline and Its Reasons: A Systematic Review of Studies With Medical Students and Residents. Acad. Med. 2011;86;996-1009.
3. Bayliss A, Strunk V. Measurement of Empathy Changes During a Physical Therapist’s Education and Beyond. Journal of Physical Therapy Education 2015;29(2):6-12.
4. Miller W, Rollnick S. Motivational Interviewing. 3rd ed. New York City, NY: The Guilford Press; 2013:17-18.
5. Miller W, Rollnick S. Motivational Interviewing. 3rd ed. New York City, NY: The Guilford Press; 2013.

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  • Control #: 2749179
  • Type: Posters
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Phyllis Heyne-Lindholm, Tara Haj DPT
  • Keywords:

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