Various Specialties Endure Similar Levels of Mental Effort, Stress

It is often perceived that surgeons endure greater stress than a primary care doctor, but that isn't necessarily the case.

It is often perceived that surgeons endure greater mental challenges and stress in their work duties than a primary care doctor, but new research shows that this isn’t necessarily the case.

Researchers from the University of Cincinnati’s departments of public health sciences, neurology, psychology, and anthropology used work intensity measurement tools to determine that the level of mental effort and stress within various specialty groups tends to be similar.

This finding may lead to more equitable payment for primary care physicians and tools for further assessment of stress and workload in medicine with the goal of improving health care. Results of the study were recently published online ahead of print in the journal Medical Care.

“Similarities and differences in physician work intensity among specialties are poorly understood but have implications for quality of care, patient safety, practice organization, management, and payment,” Ronnie Horner, PhD, said in a statement. Horner is chair of the UC College of Medicine’s public health sciences department and the study’s lead investigator.

“We recently completed a study that showed certain known measurement tools for assessing non-clinical work intensity can also be used to determine physician work intensity in clinical settings, he added. “This study used the same tools to compare whether work intensity measured immediately after providing care would be similar for physicians performing an operation versus an evaluation and management service.”

Forty-five family physicians, 20 general internists, 22 neurologists and 21 surgeons in Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio and Virginia made up the sample group.

On the subjective workload assessment technique (SWAT) assessment, general internists reported work intensity similar to surgeons but significantly lower than family physicians and neurologists. Surgeons reported significantly higher levels of task engagement (that is, concentration on the task) on the stress measure than the other specialties, significantly higher intensity on physical demand and significantly lower intensity on the performance dimensions than the other specialties.

Surgeons also reported the lowest intensity for time demand of all specialties, being significantly lower than either family physicians or neurologists.

Family physicians reported the highest intensity on the time dimension of the SWAT, being significantly higher than either general internists or surgeons.

Sources

Physician Work Intensity Among Medical Specialties: Emerging Evidence on its Magnitude and Composition [Medical Care]

Physicians in Varying Specialties Endure Similar Levels of Mental Effort, Stress [University of Cincinnati]