The burnout epidemic among doctors may not get talked about much in the media, but it has captured the attention of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, whose generous funding has enabled the creation of the T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion, at the University of California at San Diego.
"We are immensely grateful to Denny Sanford for his transformative generosity and his vision to address physician burnout," said UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla.
The institute, which UCSD announced last month, will conduct research that it will use to develop new methods of enhancing the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of doctors and their patients. Trainings and new curriculum will also be developed for medical school students, with an emphasis on cultivating compassion and empathy, and reducing burnout.
Sanford, a South Dakota businessman well known in San Diego’s philanthropy community, previously gave $100 million to UCSD to fund 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. "I have had the opportunity to see how grace, humanity and kindness can change people and the world. This gift extends that vision."
A recent Medscape survey of 15,000 doctors and medical professionals found that 44% had experienced burnout and 15% acknowledged having had clinical depression. Also, with 40 suicides per 100,000 people, physicians have the highest suicide rate of any occupation in the U.S., according to the American Psychiatry Association.
There is a common perception among the public that doctors tend to lack a proper bedside manner. Many doctors, of course, enter the field because they are compassionate and want to reduce people’s suffering. Experts say the main issue is not the doctors themselves but the system.
“The problem right now,” said Dr. Sunny Smith, co-medical director of UCSD’s Student-Run Free Clinic, “is that the systems that are in place in medical training and in medical practice really cause suffering in the people who are practicing medicine and it makes us lose our compassion. That is the core concept of what we're trying to address.”
For more information, visit the T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion at medschool.ucsd.edu.