Empathy and compassion are cornerstones of providing quality healthcare. Yet, several studies show that empathy and compassion levels tend to decline over the course of medical training. The Institute for Empathy and Compassion at University of California at San Diego (UCSD) is addressing this concern by providing empathy and compassion training within its School of Medicine. In order to measure the impact of these efforts, it is imperative to develop feasible methods to assess empathy and compassion levels reliably over time. To this end, our study team partnered with NeuroUX and developed an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) based smartphone approach to measure the temporal dynamics of empathy and compassion levels, as well as contextual factors (i.e. positive affect, negative affect, stress, burnout, social isolation, alcohol use) that influence these levels, among 1st – 4th year medical students at UCSD.

The study design consists of six 14-day assessment periods, each one separated by 4-weeks, that will span the duration of the 2020/2021 training year. The schedule is designed to capture short and long-term variability across many contexts to be relevant for the assessment of future interventions threaded throughout the curriculum. To maximize data collection while considering the busy schedule of UCSD medical students, we use a hybrid design that consists of micro-EMA (single question/answer) and standard-EMA prompts (multiple questions/answers).

Our work will provide a digital solution to assess empathy and compassion in natural environments, thus maximizing opportunities for improved outcome measurement of these constructs in training programs.