Selfless giving in medicine: a study of altruistic attitudes among medical students

Sanjai S, Vijayaprasad Gopichandran

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2017.082


Introduction: An important virtue in the medical profession is altruism, which makes a doctor serve without an excess of expectation of return.

Objectives: To assess the level of altruism and factors influencing altruism among medical students at a medical college in Chennai

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted on a sample of 224 students from the first, third and fourth years. We prepared a questionnaire which contained questions from the previously validated Altruistic Personality Scale. After the students’ informed consent was obtained, they were requested to self-administer the questionnaire in the form of a pen-and-paper test.

Results: The altruistic attitudes of the students were largely grouped into four categories on the basis of the factor analysis namely, (i) simple acts of altruism, (ii) recognised acts of charity, (iii) altruistic activities that put the self at risk, and (iv) humanitarian acts. From the factor scores obtained in this analysis, we performed a K-means cluster analysis, which showed that the students can be grouped into three clusters, namely, (i) simple altruists (43.3%), (ii) risk-taking altruists (30.8%), and (iii) limited altruists (25.9%). It was further observed that younger students, males, those whose parents donated to charity, those whose friends organised charitable group activities, and those who had role models in college were much more likely to be simple altruists.

Conclusion: Altruistic behaviours were infrequent among the sample of students studied, and such behaviours were influenced by their parents, peers and role models in college. An enabling environment should be created to nurture such tendencies and to channelise them through organised activities in medical schools.

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