Impact of Poetry on Empathy and Professional Burnout of Health-Care Workers: A Systematic Review

Kimberly L. Schoonover, Daniel Hall-Flavin, Kevin Whitford, Mark Lussier, Alison Essary, Maria I. Lapid

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-132
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Palliative Care
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • burnout
  • empathy
  • health-care workers
  • narrative medicine
  • poetry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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