Can stoic training develop medical student empathy and resilience? A mixed-methods study

Megan E.L. Brown, Alexander MacLellan, William Laughey, Usmaan Omer, Ghita Himmi, Tim LeBon, Gabrielle M. Finn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (SciVal)


Background: Empathic erosion and burnout represent crises within medicine. Psychological training has been used to promote empathy and personal resilience, yet some training useful within adjacent fields remain unexplored, e.g., Stoic training. Given recent research within psychology suggesting that Stoic training increases emotional wellbeing, exploring this type of training within health professions education is important. We therefore asked: What impact would a Stoicism informed online training package have on third year medical students’ resilience and empathy? Methods: 24 third year medical students took part in 12 days of online training (SeRenE), based on Stoic philosophy, and co-developed with psychotherapists. A mixed-methods study was conducted to evaluate impact. Pre- and post-SeRenE students completed the Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours Scale (SABS), Brief Resilience Scale (BRS) and Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE). All students completed semi-structured interviews following training and 2 months post-SeRenE. Thematic analysis was employed to analyse qualitative data, whilst within subjects t-tests and correlational analyses were conducted on quantitative data. Results: Quantitatively, stoic ideation, resilience and empathy increased post-training, with correlational analyses suggesting resilience and empathy increase in tandem. Qualitatively, four themes were identified: 1. Negative visualisation aids emotional and practical preparedness; 2. Stoic mindfulness encourages students to think about how they think and feel; 3. Stoic reflection develops the empathic imagination; and 4. Evaluating the accessibility of SeRenE. Conclusions: Our data lend support to the ability of Stoic-based psychological training to positively influence resilience and empathy. Although, quantitatively, results were mixed, qualitative data offers rich insight. The practice of negative visualisation, promoted by SeRenE, encourages student self-efficacy and planning, domains of resilience associated with academic success. Further, this study demonstrates a connection between Stoic practice and empathy, which manifests through development of the empathic imagination and a sense of empathic bravery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number340
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by an ASME Small Grant Award, awarded in 2020.


  • Burnout
  • Empathic erosion
  • Empathy
  • Intervention
  • Medical education
  • Medical students
  • Psychological training
  • Resilience
  • Stoic training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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