Journal of Genetic Counseling

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 1175–1186 | Cite as

Mindfulness Among Genetic Counselors Is Associated with Increased Empathy and Work Engagement and Decreased Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

  • Julia Silver
  • Colleen CaleshuEmail author
  • Sylvie Casson-Parkin
  • Kelly Ormond
Original Research


Genetic counselors experience high rates of compassion fatigue and an elevated risk for burnout, both of which can negatively impact patient care and retention in the profession. In other healthcare professions, mindfulness training has been successfully used to address similar negative psychological sequelae and to bolster empathy, which is the foundation of our counseling work. We aimed to assess associations between mindfulness and key professional variables, including burnout, compassion fatigue, work engagement, and empathy. Data were collected via an anonymous, online survey that included validated measures of mindfulness and these key professional variables. The survey was completed by 441 genetic counselors involved in direct patient care. Half of the respondents (50.1%) reported engaging in yoga, meditation, and/or breathing exercises. Mindfulness was positively correlated with work engagement (r = 0.24, p < 0.001) and empathy (as measured through four subscales: perspective taking (r = 0.15, p = 0.002), empathic concern (r = 0.11, p = 0.03), fantasy (r = − 0.11, p = 0.03) and personal distress (r = − 0.15, p = 0.001)). Mindfulness was negatively correlated with compassion fatigue (r = − 0.48, p < 0.001) and burnout (r = − 0.50, p < 0.001). Given these findings, mindfulness training may be a valuable addition to graduate and continuing education for genetic counselors. The integration of mindfulness into the genetic counseling field will likely improve professional morale and well-being, while promoting workforce retention and bolstering the relational and counseling aspects of our clinical work.


Genetic counselors Genetic counseling Mindfulness Burnout Compassion fatigue Retention Empathy Work engagement 



This study was completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the first author’s Master of Science degree from the Stanford University. We are grateful to the genetic counselors who participated in this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Julia Silver, Colleen Caleshu, Kelly Ormond and Sylvie Casson-Parkin declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human Studies and Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000 (5). Informed consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the study.

Animal Studies

No animal or human studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

Supplementary material

10897_2018_236_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (91 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 91.0 kb)


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Copyright information

© National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Silver
    • 1
  • Colleen Caleshu
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Sylvie Casson-Parkin
    • 3
    • 4
  • Kelly Ormond
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of GeneticsStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Stanford Center for Inherited Cardiovascular DiseaseStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Division of Medical Genetics, Department of PediatricsStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  4. 4.Stanford Children’s HospitalPalo AltoUSA
  5. 5.Department of GeneticsStanford Center for Biomedical EthicsStanfordUSA

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