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The relationship between empathy and burnout – lessons for paramedics: a scoping review

Authors Williams B, Lau R, Thornton E, Olney LS

Received 7 July 2017

Accepted for publication 13 October 2017

Published 27 November 2017 Volume 2017:10 Pages 329—337


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Professor Igor Elman

Brett Williams,1 Rosalind Lau,1 Emma Thornton,1 Lauren S Olney2

1Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practice, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia; 2Clinical and Community Services Division, Ambulance Victoria, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Background: The concepts of empathy and burnout are critical for practicing paramedics and the profession. While there has been an increasing body of research on the relationship between empathy and burnout with physicians and nurses, surprisingly, no research has been undertaken with paramedics. The aim of this scoping review was to explore the relationship between empathy and burnout.
Method: A scoping review was performed based on Arskey and O’Malley’s framework. Five databases were searched: CINAHL plus, EMBASE, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and Scopus. Google Scholar was searched for gray literature. Two reviewers independently assessed eligibility and extracted the data.
Results: The initial search produced a yield of 1270 articles after removal of duplicates. All abstracts were screened for relevance, and 30 articles were selected for further screening. Twenty six articles were deemed relevant, of which there were 23 cross-sectional studies, two editorials, and one description article on the multidimensional aspect of burnout and empathy. The studies were conducted in Europe, USA, North America, and Asia. In most studies, there was an inverse correlation between empathy and emotional exhaustion and depersonalization but a positive correlation with personal accomplishment.
Conclusion: Although there seems to be a real relationship between empathy and burnout in physicians and nurses, the strength of the relationship differs to some extent depending on the samples and settings. Due to similarities between health professions, the relationship between empathy and burnout may also be relevant to the paramedic profession. Future paramedic research should focus on longitudinal studies to determine the factors that might influence empathy and burnout levels to provide a better understanding of these two key factors.

Keywords: burnout, empathy, nurse, physician, paramedic

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