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Empathy and Perspective Taking in Understanding Burnout

Empathy and Perspective Taking in Understanding Burnout


Background: General practice is stressful and burnout is common among family physicians. A growing body of evidence suggests that the way physicians relate to their patients could be linked to burnout. The goal of this study was to examine how patterns of empathy explained physicians' burnout.

Methods: We surveyed 294 French general practitioners (response rate 39%), measured burnout, empathic concern (EC) and perspective taking (PT) using self-reported questionnaires, and modeled burnout levels and frequencies with EC, PT and their interaction in linear and logistic regression analyses.

Results: Multivariate linear models for burnout prediction were associated with lower PT (β = −0.21, p < 0.001) and lower EC (β = −0.17, p < 0.05). Interestingly, the interaction (EC x PT) also predicted burnout levels (β = 0.11, p < 0.05). The investigation of interactions revealed that high scores on PT predicted lower levels of burnout independent from EC (odd ratios (OR) 0.37; 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.21–0.65 p < 0.001), and high scores on both EC and PT were protective against burnout: OR 0.31; 95% CI 0.15–0.63, p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Deficits in PT alone might be a risk factor for burnout, whereas higher PT and EC might be protective. Educators should take into account how the various components of empathy are potentially associated with emotional outcomes in physicians.

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