Association Between Empathy and Burnout Among Emergency Medicine Physicians

Jon A. Wolfshohl, Keegan Bradley, Charles Bell, Sarah Bell, Caleb Hodges, Heidi Knowles, Bharti R. Chaudhari, Ryan Kirby, Jeffrey A. Kline, Hao Wang


Background: The association between physician self-reported empathy and burnout has been studied in the past with diverse findings. We aimed to determine the association between empathy and burnout among United States emergency medicine (EM) physicians using a novel combination of tools for validation.

Methods: This was a prospective single-center observational study. Data were collected from EM physicians. From December 1, 2018 to January 31, 2019, we used the Jefferson scale of empathy (JSE) to assess physician empathy and the Copenhagen burnout inventory (CBI) to assess burnout. We divided EM physicians into different groups (residents in each year of training, junior/senior attendings). Empathy, burnout scores and their association were analyzed and compared among these groups.

Results: A total of 33 attending physicians and 35 EM residents participated in this study. Median self-reported empathy scores were 113 (interquartile range (IQR): 105 - 117) in post-graduate year (PGY)-1, 112 (90 - 115) in PGY-2, 106 (93 - 118) in PGY-3 EM residents, 112 (105 - 116) in junior and 114 (101 - 125) in senior attending physicians. Overall burnout scores were 43 (33 - 50) in PGY-1, 51 (29 - 56) in PGY-2, 43 (42 - 53) in PGY-3 EM residents, 33 (24 - 47) in junior attending and 25 (22 - 53) in senior attending physicians separately. The Spearman correlation (ρ) was -0.11 and β-weight was -0.23 between empathy and patient-related burnout scores.

Conclusion: Self-reported empathy declines over the course of EM residency training and improves after graduation. Overall high burnout occurs among EM residents and improves after graduation. Our analysis showed a weak negative correlation between self-reported empathy and patient-related burnout among EM physicians.

J Clin Med Res. 2019;11(7):532-538


Emergency medicine; Empathy; Burnout

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