FS: Improving Empathic Communication Skills and Burnout Coping Skills to Health Professionals
Date & Time
Monday, June 14, 2021, 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

A health professional who establishes an empathic bond of trust with their patients will help ensure the patients have better compliance to instructions and better health outcomes. However, there is an underlying problem with some health professionals being able to maintain their empathy when dealing with patients. Prior research has shown many medical students have "normal" levels of cognitive and affective empathy when entering medical school, as measured by the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (developed by Dr. M. Hojat) or the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale (developed by Dr. A. Mehrabian), respectively.  However, for most students, the empathy scores markedly decline by the time they earn their MD or DO degree. The drop in empathy scores is usually accompanied by burnout when the health professionals enter practice. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the inability of many health professionals to show cognitive empathy to their patients, or blunt their affective empathy to reduce burnout rates. When this was written (August, 2020), health professionals around the world are overwhelmed by the sheer number of COVID-19 patients and the subsequent death rate. This focus session will provide some tools to begin to develop the skill set needed to teach empathic communication skills to current health professions students and those now in practice, as well as the skills needed to help reduce feelings of burnout in the work place for faculty and health professionals.

Research has shown that single session, or even several sessions, on how to increase cognitive empathy when communicating with patients improves communication skills. However, the results are very short lived, lasting only a few weeks to a few months at most. Many of the techniques used, e.g., role-playing scenarios, showing videos of good and bad health professional-patient interactions with a subsequent discussion of what went right or wrong, or using Balint sessions, are somewhat time-consuming. With the curriculum of most health professions already packed, what is needed, and will be provided in this focus session, is a more simple approach on how to improve empathic skills that can be taught and mastered quickly. This focus session will provide several skills to use during any patient-health professional interaction.  Another focus of the session will teach skills to help prevent burnout; since maintaining cognitive empathy, while blunting affective empathy, reduces burnout rates.

Bruce Newton