Empathy and burnout: an analytic cross-sectional study among nurses and nursing students

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Paola Ferri
Eleonora Guerra
Luigi Marcheselli
Laura Cunico
Rosaria Di Lorenzo


analytic cross-sectional study, empathy, burnout, nursing students, nurses



 Background and aim: Empathy is an essential element of good nursing care associated with increased patient satisfaction. Burnout represents chronic occupational stress which diminishes interest in work and reduces patient safety and satisfaction. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the correlation between empathy and burnout in nursing students and nurses. Method: This cross-sectional research was conducted in a sample of 298 nurses and 115 nursing students. Socio-demographic and career information was collected. Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale (BEES) and Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) were administered. Data were statistically analysed. Results: 63% of our sample answered questionnaires (54% of nurses and 84% of students). The BEES global mean score was slightly inferior to empathy cut-off of 32. In the student group, two BEES dimension scores were statistically significantly higher than nurses (p=0.011 and p=0.007 respectively, t-test). Empathy was negatively related to age (p=0.001, ANOVA). Emotional exhaustion (EE) scores of MBI reported statistically significantly lower levels for students (p<0.0001, t-test). EE was negatively related to BEES mean total score in students (r=-0.307, p<0.002) and nurses (r=-0.245, p<0.002), personal accomplishment of MBI presented positive correlation with BEES mean total scores in students (r=0.319, p<0.002) and nurses (r=0.266, p<0.001, Pearson’s correlation). Female students showed superior empathy capacity in comparison to male students in all 5 dimensions of BEES (p<0.001), whereas females nurses in only one dimension (p<0.001). Conclusions: Our data suggest empathy declines with age and career. High levels of empathy can be protective against burnout development, which, when presents, reduces empathy.


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