Background: Narrative medicine (NM) interventions have positively influenced empathy and burnout to varying degrees in health-care workers. We systematically reviewed the impact of poetry, a form of NM, on empathy and professional burnout.
Methods: A comprehensive search of Ovid MEDLINE(R) and Epub Ahead of Print, In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, and Daily, Ovid EMBASE, Ovid PsycINFO, Ovid Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Ovid Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and Scopus, from inception to September 25, 2018, for articles published in English, was conducted using search terms related to NM, empathy, professional burnout, and health-care personnel.
Results: Of the 401 abstracts independently screened for inclusion by 2 reviewers, 2 quantitative, 3 qualitative studies, and 1 research letter were included. One research letter, focusing on the use of poetry, found it to increase empathy as measured by a nonvalidated questionnaire. All other studies used mixed NM interventions: 2 quantitative studies, using validated surveys, showed an increase in empathy and 2 qualitative studies showed limited to a prominent finding of increased empathy. There were no studies that used poetry exclusively to assess impact on professional burnout. One quantitative study, utilizing a validated survey, revealed no overall reduced burnout among residents, although high attendance participants had moderately reduced burnout postintervention, and one qualitative study noted limited reduction in burnout.
Conclusion: There is evidence that poetry as part of a NM intervention may increase empathy and limited evidence that it may reduce professional burnout among health-care workers.
By 2060, almost 25% (98 million) of the population is expected to be aged 65 or older. Health care professionals who provide hospice and palliative care are overtasked and demonstrate symptoms of burnout. Narrative medicine and mindfulness interventions create meaningful connections with patients, improve the delivery of patient-centered care, and enhance the health of the caregivers. In this pilot program, health care professionals in hospice and palliative care settings were invited to participate in a study to evaluate the impact of narrative medicine or mindfulness on measures of burnout and empathy. Participants completed baseline and 12-week post-intervention surveys of burnout and empathy, as well as weekly journals of their experience. Mean overall scores for depersonalization were significantly reduced at 12-week post-intervention. There were no significant changes in emotional exhaustion or empathy compared to baseline. This brief, weekly intervention may be beneficial for both patients and health care professionals in the hospice and palliative care setting.