Residents, Senior Physicians at Higher Risk of Burnout

Two studies found that young physicians in particular, and those who are nearing the end of their careers, are at high risk for burnout. Residents surveyed reported less job satisfaction and personal support than their colleagues.

Two studies found that young physicians in particular, and those who are nearing the end of their careers, are at high risk for burnout. The studies were published in the January issue of the journal Anesthesiology.

In one study, researchers at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine developed an online survey given to all medical personnel in a perioperative unit. Of the 145 healthcare workers surveyed, 46% were physicians (23% residents), 44% were nurses or nurse anesthetists, and 10% were other personnel.

“We found that physicians, particularly residents, had less job satisfaction and personal support than nurses or nurse anesthetists,” said Steve A. Hyman, MD, MM, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “The results showed that physicians, especially younger ones, had higher levels of cynicism and emotional exhaustion and are at a high risk of burnout.”

In a separate editorial that ran in the journal, Carol Wiley Cassella, MD, of Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, shared her experience with burnout and how she coped as a young physician. Dr. Cassella swrote that she thought she might find relief moving from internal medicine to anesthesiology.

“When I left internal medicine to practice anesthesia, I was too inexperienced to foresee that the inexorable changes grinding me toward emotional exhaustion were not unique to my clinic or my specialty,” said Dr. Cassella.

Hyman noted in the study that further research is needed to identify the highest-risk groups and contributory factors, and to evaluate prevention and treatment interventions. “As in other professions where burnout can affect quality of work, burnout in healthcare workers has a huge potential financial impact as well as affecting the quality of patient care,” he wrote.

Senior Physicians Also StrugglingAnother study conducted by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine showed a high percentage of senior physicians are also struggling with burnout.

Dr. McCarthy surveyed 102 anesthesiology department chairs -- the departments’ most senior physicians -- using an instrument that included the Maslach Burnout Inventory. The survey examined the participants’ job satisfaction at the time of the survey, compared with one and five years prior to the survey, the likelihood of stepping down as chair in the next two years, and a high risk of burnout.

Of those surveyed:

• 34% reported high job satisfaction currently. (This was a significant decline compared to job satisfaction reports one and five years prior to the survey.)

• 28% reported extreme likelihood of stepping down as a chair in one to two years.

• 28% met the criteria for high burnout, and an additional 31% were in the moderately-high burnout category.

The study found that low job satisfaction and reduced support from spouses/significant others, significantly increased the risk of burnout.

“Our data suggest that burnout is evident in approximately one half of the chairs of academic anesthesiology departments,” said Robert J. McCarthy, PharmD, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead study author. “This has substantial implications not only on the individual physician and his/her patients, but also the functioning of the department and the training of future anesthesiologists.”

To read more about the studies, visit the Anesthesiology website.