PURPOSE: To examine, primarily, the effects of ethnicity and gender, which could introduce bias into scoring, on standardized patient (SP) assessments of medical students and, secondarily, to examine medical students' self-reported empathy for ethnicity and gender effects so as to compare self-perception with the perceptions of SPs. METHOD: Participants were 577 students from four medical schools in 2012: 373 (65%) were white, 79 (14%) black/African American, and 125 (22%) Asian/Pacific Islander. These students were assessed by 84 SPs: 62 (74%) were white and 22 (26%) were black/African American. SPs completed the Jefferson Scale of Patient Perceptions of Physician Empathy (JSPPPE) and the Global Ratings of Empathy tool. Students completed the Jefferson Scale of Empathy and two Interpersonal Reactivity Index subscales. The investigators used 2,882 student-SP encounters in their analyses. RESULTS: Analyses of SPs' assessments of students' empathy indicated significant interaction effects of gender and ethnicity. Female students, regardless of ethnicity, obtained significantly higher mean JSPPPE scores than men. Female black/African American, female white, and female Asian/Pacific Islander students scored significantly higher on the JSPPPE than their respective male counterparts. Male black/African American students obtained the lowest SP assessment scores of empathy regardless of SP ethnicity. Black/African American students obtained the highest mean scores on self-reported empathy. CONCLUSIONS: The significant interaction effects of ethnicity and gender in clinical encounters, plus the inconsistencies observed between SPs' assessments of students' empathy and students' self-reported empathy, raise questions about possible ethnicity and gender biases in the SPs' assessments of medical students' clinical skills.
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