The impact of empathy on burnout in medical students: new findings

Psychol Health Med. 2018 Mar;23(3):295-303. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2017.1374545. Epub 2017 Sep 28.


Introduction: Research on medical students has shown they are at a higher risk for burnout and that this burnout may become more prevalent as they advance in medical school. The literature, thus far, has not explored the construct of ,emotional empathy and whether this can impact burnout in medical students. Objective: To understand the relationship between empathy (Empathic Concern [EC] and Personal Distress [PD]) and burnout in medical students.

Method: Five successive classes of medical students enrolled at a new medical school were given the Maslach Burnout Inventory and Davis' Interpersonal Reactivity Index over the course of three successive years (n = 353). Two dimensions of empathy were evaluated to determine if they have an impact on three dimensions of burnout (Emotional Exhaustion/EE, Depersonalization/DP, Personal Accomplishment/PA).

Results: data was analyzed using a linear mixed model for each of the three components of burnout based on gender, age, year in medical school, and two types of empathy: EC, and PD. Conclusion: It was discovered that students with high levels of EC had statistically lower scores of burnout over time while students with high levels of PD empathy showed statistically higher scores of burnout over three years. Implications for these findings are discussed.

Keywords: Burnout; empathy; medical students; wellbeing.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / diagnosis
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Florida
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Young Adult