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Who We Are

The time is now for empathy-driven change and the T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion is leading the charge on this movement.  

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, healthcare 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 to secure a kinder, more compassionate world, the T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion at University of California San Diego was founded with his generous donation in July 2019.

The Institute represents an unprecedented blending of two parallel themes:

  1. 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,
  2. 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.

How We Do It

The Sanford Institute takes a three-pronged approach to enhancing empathy and compassion in healthcare, medical education, and beyond — here's how it works: 

empathy process flowchart

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. This is the root of our research; through data, we determine the neurobiology of empathy and compassion. 

We then use our research to alter neural circuits and integrate social determinants from existing programs. This is critical because 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. And on the other side of the stethoscope, physician burnout, depression and suicide have become national health crises. Physicians need help to heal themselves. 

Finally, we develop new programs and curricula that harness our collective learnings to seek answers and remedies, leading a brand-new era of healthcare that is based upon empathy and compassion and validated by science.

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