Younger Residents at Higher Risk of Burnout

New research finds that younger physicians have higher levels of cynicism and emotional exhaustion and are at a high risk of burnout.

Findings from two studies published in Anesthesiology indicate that physicians at both ends of their career—particularly in the early years—are at high risk for burnout.

In one study, researchers at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine distributed an online survey to all medical personnel in a perioperative unit.

“We found that physicians, particularly residents, had less job satisfaction and personal support than nurses or nurse anesthetists,” said Steve A. Hyman, MD, an associate professor of clinical anesthesiology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, in a statement. “The results showed that physicians, especially younger ones, had higher levels of cynicism and emotional exhaustion and are at a high risk of burnout. This is a particularly troubling finding as we look to the future of America’s health care system. We need a strong young physician base.”

The online survey included demographics, a modified version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Human Services Survey, and the Social Support and Personal Coping Survey. Of the 145 responses, 46% were physicians (23% residents), 44% were nurses or nurse anesthetists, and 10% were other personnel.

"More research is needed to identify the highest-risk groups and contributory factors, and to evaluate prevention and treatment interventions," said Hyman. "As in other professions where burnout can affect quality of work, burnout in health care workers has a huge potential financial impact, as well as a negative impact on the quality of patient care."

Another study completed at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine showed a high percentage of senior physicians are also struggling with burnout.

"Our data suggest that burnout is evident in approximately one half of the chairs of academic anesthesiology departments," said Robert J. McCarthy, PharmD, the study’s senior author. "This has substantial implications not only on the individual physician and his or her patients, but also the functioning of the department and the training of future anesthesiologists."

Gildasio De Oliveria, MD, the study’s lead author, surveyed 102 anesthesiology department chairs (typically among of the departments’ most senior physicians) using an instrument that included the Maslach Burnout Inventory. The survey examined the participants’ job satisfaction compared with one and five years prior to the survey, the likelihood of stepping down as chair in the next two years, and the 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% also met the criteria for high burnout, and an additional 31% were in the moderately-high burnout category

The study found that age, gender, years as a chair, hours worked and perceived effectiveness were not associated with high burnout. Low job satisfaction and reduced self-reported spouse/significant other support, however, significantly increased the risk.

To read the study, along with accompanying editorials, click on the links below:

  • Risk of Burnout in Perioperative Clinicians: A Survey Study and Literature Review
  • Burnout in Anesthesiology: A Call to Action
  • Burnout and the Relative Value of Dopamine