Is There a Relationship Between Empathy Levels and the Personality Traits of Entering Paramedic Students?

Ron Lawler, BUS, NRP; Elias Frick, BA, NRP; Ben Getsug, AAS; Brian Hendrickson, MS, EMT-P; Sara Houston, BS, NREMT-P; Evelyn Hunter, BS, MSW, LSW; Andy Lovell, NREMT-P; Luke Stanke, PhDc; Hanorah Vanni, BA; Mark Volker; Rachel Wasilewski, BS; Virginia Wilson, BSBA, BS, EMT-P

Empathy is an essential affective competency that paramedic educational programs are encouraged to measure to meet accreditation requirements. Previous studies have suggested a link between empathy and personality traits in other professions.

Empathy levels of matriculating paramedic students are associated with personality traits of agreeableness, conscientiousness,and neuroticism.

Paramedic students participating in Fisdap, a national online testing cooperative community, and completing the Fisdap Entrance Exam (EE), completed the previously validated Jefferson Scale of Empathy – Health Profession Student version (JSE-HPS – Williams 2015) and applicable sections of the M5-50 personality inventory (McCord 2002). To understand the relationship between empathy and other traits, three regression models were fit to empathy scores.

A total of 604 consenting students from 61 geographically diverse programs in the United States completed both inventories between August 15, 2013, and March 27, 2015. Mean scores were obtained for empathy (110.00; SD=13.99), agreeableness (80.43; SD=11.09), conscientiousness (81.63; SD=11.66), and neuroticism (25.66; SD=17.09). Results were statistically significant for all three regression models (p<.01). See Table 1. Each trait accounted for the following variability in empathy scores: agreeableness 8% (R2 = .08), conscientiousness 5% (R2 = .08) and neuroticism 1%. Higher neuroticism scores were associated with decreased levels of empathy.

Table 1: Results of three regression models. Note: The relationships may not have practical significance.

For every 10 point increase on the agreeableness scale, we can expect a 3.6 point increase in empathy scores. For every 10 point increase on the conscientiousness scale, we can expect a 2.8 point increase in empathy scores. For every 10 point increase on the neuroticism scale, we can expect a 1 point decrease in empathy scores.

Table 2: Summary statistics for the four measures.


The first regression model used agreeableness as an independent variable and is written as:
Y(x) = B0 + B1(Agreeableness Score).
The second regression model used conscientiousness scores as an independent variable and is written as:
Y(x) = B0 + B1(Conscientiousness Score).
The third regression model model used neuroticism scores from the Fisdap Entrance Exam as an independent variable and is written as:
Y(x) = B0 + B1(Neuroticism Score).

Empathy scores are positively correlated to agreeableness and conscientiousness while being negatively associated to neuroticism.

It appears empathy, unlike the other three traits, is a teachable “soft skill” and may vary with time. More evidence is needed to understand the practical significance and use of these relationships in EMS education.
Unrelated to this research project, David Page has a paid consultation relationship with Fisdap. Luke Stanke received financial compensation for work on this project from Fisdap. L. Michael Bowen is an employee of Fisdap.