UCSD launches institute to study burnout among doctors

LA JOLLA, Calif. — UC San Diego Monday announced the creation of an institute to study the neurological details of compassion and empathy and how they relate to burnout among doctors.

UC San Diego received funding for the institute from South Dakota businessman and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. Medical experts and scientists at the T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion will analyze the traits of compassion and empathy in an effort to develop new methods to improve the physical and mental well-being of doctors and, by extension, their patients.

By improving both medical training methods and working conditions, the institute’s purpose includes tackling the issue of physician burnout. A 2019 Medscape survey of 15,000 medical professionals across roughly 30 disciplines found that 44% had experienced burnout and 15% dealt with colloquial or clinical depression.

Physicians also have the highest suicide rate of any line of work in the U.S. at roughly 40 suicides per 100,000 people, according to data from the American Psychiatry Association.

“We are immensely grateful to Denny Sanford for his transformative generosity and his vision to address physician burnout,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. “This sort of multidisciplinary, collaborative effort that builds upon our existing leadership in neuroscience to understand the expression of and capacity for compassion and empathy is exactly what UC San Diego is known to do.”

UC San Diego did not disclose the amount of the donation from Sanford, who in 2013 donated $100 million to UC San Diego to fund the creation of what is now the university’s Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center. He has also donated millions of dollars to build children’s medical facilities in South Dakota, Minnesota and Florida.

“I have been inspired by the work and teachings of the Dalai Lama, whose interest in the intersection where science and faith meet is deep and profound,” Sanford said in a statement released by UC San Diego. “I have had the opportunity to see how grace, humanity and kindness can change people and the world. This gift extends that vision.”

The institute is expected to partner with the university’s student-run health clinic to provide care for overworked or overwhelmed doctors. The clinic has provided health care to San Diego residents since 1997.

The fundraising is part of UC San Diego’s Campaign for UC San Diego, a $2 billion effort to improve student experiences, campus facilities and research opportunities. The school has raised more than $1.93 billion since it launched the campaign in 2012.

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