Publication Details

Levett-Jones, T., Cant, R. & Lapkin, S. (2019). A systematic review of the effectiveness of empathy education for undergraduate nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 75 (1), 80-94.



The objective of this systematic review was to identify, critically appraise and synthesize evidence for the effectiveness of empathy interventions in undergraduate nursing education.


A systematic review of literature.

Data Sources

A three-stage systematic search of six electronic databases was conducted.

Review Methods

The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses guided the review. English language articles published between 2000 and 2018 were eligible. Methodological rigour was examined using the Medical Education Research Study Quality Instrument. Changes in empathy were assessed using Cohen's effect size correlation (r) and reported as effective when the variance was >0.2 standard deviations (r ≥ 0.2).


Of 23 included studies, four were experimental and four were case-control studies. Of these, the mean effect size was r = 0.45 and three were regarded as effective empathy interventions. Although 10 of 13 single group studies demonstrated a significant change in empathy between pre-test and post-test (p < 0.05), effect sizes were often low (mean r = 0.26). Six single-group studies reported an intervention effect of r > 0.2. The most effective empathy education involved immersive and experiential simulation-based interventions. Simulation modalities ranged from role plays, manikin-based scenarios, to 3D e-simulations and point-of-view simulations where students wore a hemiparesis suit\


Nine of 23 empathy education studies in undergraduate nurse education demonstrated practical improvements in empathy. The most effective interventions were immersive and experiential simulations that focused on vulnerable patient groups and provided opportunities for guided reflection. We noted the research designs were limited in terms of levels of evidence and use of subjective measures. Larger experimental studies are required to provide higher levels of evidence to identify unequivocal outcomes in terms of empathy research. Future studies should consider transfer to practice and longer-term changes in empathy as study outcomes.



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