Can Compassion Training Help Physicians Avoid Burnout?

A new study suggests that compassion training may buffer against the detrimental effects of high-stress medical training, particularly for those prone to depression.

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All of us want our doctors to treat us with care. But the rigorous, high-stress training provided by medical schools seems to zap students of empathy for patients and well-being, making it less likely that these students will morph into compassionate caregivers later on.

Now, a new study suggests a potential remedy for overly stressed medical students: compassion training.

Caregivers Learn Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT)

Researcher Jennifer Mascaro and colleagues from Emory University randomly assigned volunteer second-year medical students to either 10 weeks of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) or to a waitlist.

The training, based on the Tibetan Buddhist practice of lojong, consists of cognitive exercises that strengthen students’ attention and explore the nature of suffering—how it arises in ourselves and others, of human interdependence, and of the randomness of labels that we assign to other people (e.g., friend vs. enemy vs. stranger). Ideally, the exercises inspire compassion: a naturally emerging desire to do things to help others relieve their suffering.

Before and after the training, students were asked to fill out various questionnaires related to their compassion levels, personal health, and well-being.

Results showed that students on the waitlist experienced declines in compassion…