Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice

Empathy and burnout: A multicentre comparative study between residents and specialists

Early View

Abstract Rationale, Aims, and Objectives The prevalence of burnout among medical doctors and its negative effect on empathy can influence therapeutic success. The aim of this study was to compare the levels of empathy and burnout between residents and specialists as well as to study the correlation between empathy and burnout. Methods This is an exploratory study of a convenience sample of 104 doctors who work in health institutions in Greater Lisbon area in Portugal, covering central hospitals, district hospitals, and health centres. Each doctor filled in a questionnaire, which included the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) and the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE). Results Participants were divided in two subgroups: 51% residents (n = 53) and 49% specialists (n = 51). A difference (p = .048) in JSE scores between residents (mean 116.4, SD 12.8) and specialists (mean 120.78, SD 12.84) has been identified. Furthermore, in all three MBI subscales (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment), the group of residents showed significantly higher mean scores. In general, empathy scores showed an inverse relationship between depersonalization (r = –0.390, p < .0001) and lack of personal accomplishment (r = –0.447, p < .0001). Finally, we found that an increase in MBI level is associated with a decrease in empathy levels. Conclusion Our findings suggest that there is a significant difference in burnout subscales scores between residents and specialists and that these have a negative correlation with empathy level. These exploratory results draw attention to the importance of preventing burnout in hospital and health care centres professionals, in particular in residents, through the implementation of individual and organizational structured measures.

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