Faculty & Staff Publications - Public Safety

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Background: Although inconsistently defined, empathy is generally considered to be the understanding of another person's reactions, thoughts, feelings and problems and being able to relay this sense of understanding back to the individual. Empathy in healthcare is associated with improved communication, reduced stress, lower complication rates and improved clinical outcomes. Low empathy is associated with decreased patient satisfaction, and provider burnout.

Aim: The aim of this article is to provide an overview of empathy in paramedic practice, and to outline several potential solutions to improve empathy levels among paramedics and paramedic students.

Methods: We conducted unstructured, non-systematic searches of the literature in order to inform an overview of the literature. An overview is a summary of the literature that attempts to survey the literature and describe its characteristics. We thematically structured the results of these searches under the following headings: empathy in paramedic practice, empathy and burnout, and strategies to improve empathy levels.

Discussion: The literature demonstrates that paramedic students have lower empathy scores towards substance users and mental health emergencies, and this may affect future practice as a paramedic. The burden of emotional work in paramedic practice and coping strategies that paramedics develop may also be contributory factors in this lower empathy. There appears to be a relationship between empathy and burnout, with most studies suggesting an inverse relationship. Empathy is an interpersonal skill that can be learned and improved upon through methods such as reflection and simulation.

Conclusion: Empathy in paramedic practice is complex, and understudied. Although some evidence exists to suggest that paramedic students have variable empathy levels towards certain patients, and that these empathy scores can decline over time, there is a distinct lack of research into empathy in practicing paramedics, and this requires further attention. In particular, its relationship to patient care, paramedic burnout, and wellbeing require investigation. Several strategies to teach empathy exist and these can be considered by educators.

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