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PP36 Empathy and conscious vicarious pain in emergency ambulance workers
  1. Alison Brown1,2
  1. 1Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, UK
  2. 2Sheffield Hallam University, UK


Background Empathy is core to human relationships and essential to patient centred healthcare. However, there are concerns that increased emotional connection increases distress for workers, leading to burnout. Empathy research within the ambulance sector is limited and has primarily involved paramedic students. The range of models and measures used in empathy research have led to mixed results and difficulties interpreting implications. Differentiation of components of empathy is needed. Vicarious pain experience has played a prominent role in empathy research, has bought insight into mechanism and is highly relevant within healthcare. This study uses a multidimensional approach to compare empathy and vicarious pain experience amongst emergency ambulance workers and a general population group.

Method 128 participants, including 78 emergency ambulance workers were recruited within Yorkshire Ambulance Service and in the South Yorkshire area. Empathy levels were measured using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index subscales of fantasy, perspective taking, empathetic concern and personal distress. Vicarious pain responses were categorised using the Vicarious Pain Questionnaire. The study analysed between group differences in empathy sub-scale levels and the effect of emergency ambulance experience on empathy levels. In addition, between group differences in vicarious pain experience were assessed.

Results Lower levels of empathy were identified for emergency ambulance workers on the fantasy (p=.012, 95% CI =0.09-0.83), empathetic concern (p=.002) and personal distress (p<.001) scales. Perspective taking abilities (p=.303) were not found to be significantly reduced. Amongst emergency ambulance workers levels of personal distress decreased with experience (p=.028). Emergency ambulance workers were less likely to experience conscious vicarious pain than others (p=.02).

Conclusions Differentiating factors of empathy bought insight. Interventions to increase empathy amongst emergency ambulance workers should focus on building the capacity for empathetic concern, while preserving perspective taking abilities. Work to reduce personal distress of those in the early stages of their career is warranted.

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