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Our Approach

Sanford Institute scientists conduct empirical research into the most effective mechanisms that enable providers to demonstrate compassion and practice greater empathy. Gathering and providing this empirical data to educators informs them on curricular design, enabling them to better assess how to improve where needed, as well as aiding them in piloting interventions and assessing results. This collaboration between scientists and educators allows us to incorporate more effective training strategies into the curriculum at UC San Diego, providing future doctors with enhanced tools to harness their skills in compassionately caring for patients.
In addition, the Sanford Institute partners closely with the UC San Diego Student-Run Free Clinic, which has been providing free comprehensive health care since 1997 to members of the San Diego community who need it most but can afford it least.

Doctors have the highest suicide rate of any profession in the country: approximately 28 to 40 suicides per 100,000, according to the American Psychiatry Association. Every day, at least one doctor chooses to end his or her life. This is more than twice the national average for the population as a whole. Even among those who don’t spiral into depression and suicidal ideation, nearly half of physicians will struggle with burnout marked by physical and emotional exhaustion, a sense of emptiness and a nagging lack of accomplishment.

Part of the Sanford Institute's mission involves extrapolating new science-based programs and remedies to address this issue through validated instruction of self-compassion, mindfulness training (including assessing and integrating existing compassion training protocols) and a heightened focus on mental health. 

“The United States is facing unprecedented levels of physician burnout, student suicides, and patient dissatisfaction,” said David Brenner, MD, vice chancellor for health sciences at UC San Diego. “UC San Diego is not immune to this, but we can be part of the answer. We are dedicated to tackling these problems at home and in creating solutions that can be used nationally.” The Sanford Institute employs state-of-the-art neuroscience technologies, including sophisticated neuro-imaging, to identify and map brain activity created by empathic behavior, quantify the factors promoting or inhibiting compassionate behavior and design new methods to increase empathic signals in the brain.

“UC San Diego is an undisputed hub for neurosciences,” said William Mobley, MD, PhD, associate dean of neuroscience initiatives and a long-time advocate for the empirical study of compassion. “People have long appreciated an important role for compassion for human wellbeing, but only recently have neuroscientists studied how it manifests in the brain. We engage in studies needed to advance the understanding of the neurobiology of compassion and use the insights derived to enable people to tap into its power for good."