Relationship between increased personal well-being and enhanced empathy among internal medicine residents

J Gen Intern Med. 2005 Jul;20(7):559-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.0108.x.


Background: While resident distress and its potential to negatively effect patient care have been well documented, little is known bout resident well-being or its potential to enhance care.

Objective: We measured resident well-being and explored its relationship with empathy.

Design: Anonymous, cross-sectional survey.

Participants: Internal medicine residents at Mayo Clinic Rochester (n=165, summer 2003).

Measurements: Well-being was measured using the previously validated Medical Outcomes Study 8-item Short Form (SF-8). Empathy was measured using the previously validated Perspective Taking (PT) and Empathetic Concerns (EC) Sub-scales of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI).

Results: Eighty-three (50%) residents responded to the survey. Mean scores for well-being as measured by the SF-8 were comparable to the general population, and empathy scores on the IRI were similar to other resident samples. Resident empathy on both the cognitive (PT) and emotive (EC) sub-scales of the IRI was higher for residents with higher mental well-being on the SF-8; however, this difference was statistically significant only for the cognitive sub-scale. The importance of a number of personal wellness promotion strategies differed for residents with higher mental well-being on the SF-8.

Conclusions: High mental well-being was associated with enhanced resident empathy in this cross-sectional survey. Future studies need to explore the potential for high resident well-being to enhance medical care and competency in addition to exploring the negative consequences of resident distress. Studies investigating how to promote resident well-being are needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / education
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Patient Care / psychology*
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires