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BMC Med Educ. 2019 May 10;19(1):139. doi: 10.1186/s12909-019-1546-6.

Compassion cultivation training promotes medical student wellness and enhanced clinical care.

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University of Louisville School of Medicine, Undergraduate Medical Education, 500 South Preston Street, Louisville, KY, 40202, USA.
University of Louisville School of Medicine, Undergraduate Medical Education, 500 South Preston Street, Louisville, KY, 40202, USA.
Department of Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, 530 S Jackson Street, Louisville, KY, 40202, USA.



Compassionate health care is associated with positive patient outcomes. Educational interventions for medical students that develop compassion may also increase wellness, decrease burnout, and improve provider-patient relationships. Research on compassion training in medical education is needed to determine how students learn and apply these skills. The authors evaluated an elective course for medical students modeled after the Compassion Cultivation Training course developed by the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. The elective goals were to strengthen student compassion, kindness, and wellness through compassion training and mindfulness meditation training modeled by a faculty instructor. The research objectives were to understand students' applications and perceptions of this training.


Over three years, 45 students participated in the elective at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. The course administered a pre/post Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills that measured observing, describing, acting with awareness, and accepting without judgment. Qualitative analyses of self-reported experiences were used to assess students' perceptions of compassion training and their application of skills learned through the elective.


The mindfulness inventory showed significant improvements in observing (t = 3.62, p = 0.005) and accepting without judgment skills (t = 2.87, p = 0.017) for some elective cohorts. Qualitative data indicated that students across all cohorts found the elective rewarding, and they used mindfulness, meditation, and compassion skills broadly outside the course. Students described how the training helped them address major stressors associated with personal, academic, and clinical responsibilities. Students also reported that the skills strengthened interpersonal interactions, including with patients.


These outcomes illuminate students' attitudes toward compassion training and suggest that among receptive students, a brief, student-focused intervention can be enthusiastically received and positively influence students' compassion toward oneself and others. To underscore the importance of interpersonal and cognitive skills such as compassion and mindfulness, faculty should consider purposefully modeling these skills to students. Modeling compassion cultivation and mindfulness skills in the context of patient interactions may address student empathy erosion more directly than stress management training alone. This pilot study shows compassion training could be an attractive, efficient option to address burnout by simultaneously promoting student wellness and enhanced patient interactions.


Burnout; Compassion; Medical students; Mindfulness; Modeling

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