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Predicting empathy in helping professionals: comparison of social work and nursing students

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There is a growing trend in social work to produce social work students who demonstrate empathy. Empathy levels in social work students are not well-researched, especially in comparison with students in other helping professions. This cross-sectional study explored the relationship between empathy, self-esteem, and work engagement in 472 undergraduate and graduate students in the helping professions. Comparisons between BSW, MSW, and nursing students found overall high levels of affective empathy. Graduate MSW and nursing students scored higher than BSW students on most empathy constructs, self-esteem, work engagement, and had more work and volunteer experiences. A hierarchical multiple regression model was used to assess predictors of comprehensive empathy. Significant predictors of comprehensive empathy, as measured by the Empathy Assessment Index, included volunteer experience, work engagement, and affective empathy. Demographic variables such as age, gender, ethnicity, and years of work were non-significant predictors. Different constructs of empathy emerged, and implications of how empathy is relevant to social work practice are discussed with recommendations for social work education.
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Keywords: Empathy; empathy constructs; social work students; work engagement

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Maryland School of Social Work, Baltimore, MD, USA 2: Social Work Program, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD, USA

Publication date: February 17, 2018

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