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About the Institute

Modern health care is fueled by technology and by steady progress in areas like precision medicine, molecular imaging, neurobiology and cognitive science. But more fundamentally, health care is about people, about our diverse natures and about our ability to understand, sympathize and support each other and ourselves. 

Catalyzed by Denny Sanford's vision and generosity, the T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion at University of California San Diego was founded with a generous donation in July 2019. The Institute represents an unprecedented blending of two parallel themes: employing the unyielding rigor and tools of science to establish the neurological basis for empathy in the brain to identify the mechanisms that transform compassion from biology to behavior, and experimenting with and developing new ways to teach and instill empathy and compassion in clinicians currently practicing and in the teaching of future generations of health professionals.

empathy process flowchart

The time is right for an  empathy-driven change. The time is now. Advances in brain imaging and the neurosciences allow previously unimaginable insights into the workings of the human mind, but not necessarily how to translate that knowledge into a benefit for patients or providers. 

A physician’s ability to engage with empathy demonstrably influences how a patient feels during and after a visit — good communication is as intrinsic to accurate diagnosis as the most sophisticated instrument or test, and crucial to ensuring optimal outcomes. On the other side of the stethoscope, physician burnout, depression and suicide have become national health crises. Physicians need help to heal themselves. 

Harnessing the deep neurobiological resources and expertise in social sciences, engineering, data science and other disciplines throughout UC San Diego as well as the University’s international reputation for collaboration and innovative thought, the Sanford Institute will seek answers and remedies, leading a new era of health care based upon empathy validated by science.

Mission

Bridge those who explore the neurobiology of empathy and compassion with educators to create curricula aimed at enhancing and sustaining empathy and compassion in students and physicians for both self and others.

Develop and disseminate validated curricula for empathy and compassion to inform medical education at UCSD (University of California San Diego) and across the US as well as internationally.

Through these efforts to mark the Institute as an international thought leader and motivator of system change in enhancing empathy and compassion in healthcare.

Invent and adapt curricula for empathy and compassion to educate others, including professionals and the population at large.

Pursue research and develop curricula that advance empathy and compassion in support of social justice, especially in the context of human healthcare.

Vision

A transformation of medical education in which an emphasis on skill learning and competence in empathy and compassion parallels that for scientific and technical skills.