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Actor Alan Alda discusses using empathy as an antidote to burnout


– Physicians and other medical professionals who routinely foster empathic connections with patients may be helping themselves steer clear of burnout.

That’s what iconic actor Alan Alda suggested during a media briefing at Scripps Research on Jan. 16, 2020.

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“There’s a tremendous pressure on doctors now to have shorter and shorter visits with their patients,” said the 83-year-old Mr. Alda, who received the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 2016 for his work as a champion of science. “A lot of that time is taken up with recording on a computer, which can only put pressure on the doctor.”

Practicing empathy, he continued, “kind of opens people up to one another, which inspirits them.”

Mr. Alda appeared on the research campus to announce that Scripps Research will serve as the new West Coast home of Alda Communication Training, which will work in tandem with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University, a nonprofit organization that Mr. Alda helped found in 2009.

“This will be a center where people can come to get training in effective communication,” Mr. Alda, who is the winner of six Emmy Awards and six Golden Globe awards, told an audience of scientists and medical professionals prior to the media briefing.

“It’s an experiential kind of training,” he explained. “We don’t give tips. We don’t give lectures. We put you through exercises that are fun and actually make you laugh, but turn you into a better communicator, so you’re better able to connect to the people you’re talking to.”

During a question-and-answer session, Mr. Alda opened up about his Parkinson’s disease, which he said was diagnosed about 5 years ago. In 2018, he decided to speak publicly about his diagnosis for the first time.

“The reason was that I wanted to communicate to people who had recently been diagnosed not to believe or give into the stereotype that, when you get a diagnosis, your life is over,” said Mr. Alda, who played army surgeon “Hawkeye” Pierce on the TV series “M*A*S*H.”

“Under the burden of that belief, some people won’t tell their family or workplace colleagues,” he said. “There are exercises you can do and medications you can take to prolong the time it takes before Parkinson’s gets much more serious. It’s not to diminish the fact that it can get really bad; but to think that your life is over as soon as you get a diagnosis is wrong.”

The first 2-day training session at Scripps Research will be held in June 2020. Additional sessions are scheduled to take place in October and December. Registration is available at

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