Empathy, Arrogance and Social Desirability Among Medical Students in Puerto Rico: An Exploratory Study Post- Hurricane María

*Corresponding author: Stephanie M. Vega-Molina*, José R. Rodríguez-Gómez and Coralee Pérez-Pedrogo

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Medical and psychological literature finds that empathy is crucial in the doctor-patient relationship, and that in the last 30-years there has been a decrease among college students, particularly medical students. After the passing of Hurricane María in Puerto Rico, many medical professionals migrated, leaving the island with fewer specialists to teach the remaining medical community. This is the first such study conducted with medical students in Puerto Rico. It examines the perception of empathy from the medical student perspective amidst the particular historical context of a national emergency.


Three instruments were used: The Jefferson Scale of Empathy (Student Spanish Version) (JSE-S), Arrogance Scale (AS) and Social Desirability Scale. A Non-Experimental Correlational Exploratory study was carried out with 200 medical students (55.5% female; 44.5% male), who were coursing third (45.5%) or fourth year (54.5%), from three major medical schools on the island. The students signed informed consents and also answered sociodemographic questions.


The JSE-S demonstrated an acceptable internal consistency reliability (α=0.79) with 11 items and three underlying factors. Female students showed higher empathy scores than their male counterparts (M=73.96 vs. M=70.22, p=0.001). The JSE-S and the AS were inversely correlated. Results support that social desirability is not statistically significant as a moderator between empathy and arrogance. Significant differences were found on arrogance scores pertaining to medical specialty and on religious background. Empathy and arrogance were unrelated to age, coursing year, income or university of precedence.


Raising awareness about the importance of empathy through positive role modeling, interpersonal dynamics and valuing the doctor-patient relationship through the formative years of medical school is recommended.


Empathy; Jefferson Scale of Empathy; Medical students; Puerto Rico; Arrogance; Social desirability.