Background: In the medical context, previous studies found that female care providers present more empathy with patients than their male counterparts. Yet, the explanatory mechanisms for such a difference are not fully explored. Purpose: Guided by the message design logics, this study looked to assess the differences in the expression of empathy by male and female nursing students. Methods: The data included transcripts of conversations between 343 undergraduate nursing students and a virtual patient. Results: Study hypothesis, which was supported, predicted that when presented with opportunities to express empathy female students will use such opportunities more frequently than male students. RQ1 assessed the level of empathic responses and showed no differences between male and female students. RQ2 focused on the cognitive models of empathy and showed that female students had more complex maps that included a larger number and levels of empathy-related concepts. Clinical relevance: While both male and female students could benefit from education and support in effective expression of empathy, tailored education could promote the recognition of opportunities to be empathic among male students. Clinical communication skill training programs should consider gender-sensitive interventions to support and promote male nurse empathy skills.
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