Female medical students are more patient-centered than their male counterparts, according to a recent study of first-year students at the Boston University School of Medicine. Students who are more patient-centered plan to enter community and primary care practice rather than other medical practices, the study indicates.
"Attitudes that generate a patient-centered versus doctor-centered physician style exist as early as the first year in medical school, and these attitudes can have potentially important consequences," according to the study's lead investigator, Edward Krupat, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
The research developed and utilized a Patient-Practitioner Orientation Scale (PPOS) to measure students' attitudes and orientations toward patient-centeredness. The scale combines dimensions of two different, yet complementary perspectives of patient-centeredness. The first perspective is concerned with the practitioner's interest in or willingness to understand patients' lifestyles and to explore psychosocial issues with patients. A key element of this perspective is the practitioner's attention to 'illness,' the problem as understood by the patient, rather than 'disease,' the problem as defined biomedically. The second perspective is concerned with the practitioner's attitudes and behavior in relation to shared decision making.
In the study, data collected from 153 first-year medical students were used to develop the PPOS and to test hypotheses about the students' attitudes. The researchers found that female students were more patient-centered in their willingness to work as equal partners and to share information with patients. However, no gender difference was found in attitudes toward understanding patients' emotions and life circumstances. Patient-centeredness also was associated with a desire to practice in the community and to enter primary care practice.