Physician Burnout – A profession-wide challenge that shouldn’t be ignored

Burn-out is a phenomenon consisting of emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism/detachment, and a sense of being ineffective at one’s work, that threatens the well-being and safety of both physicians and the patients they treat. It is known to be a harbinger of work/home conflicts, health problems, and suicide among physicians.

In a recent issue of Neurology, Dr. Kerry Levin and colleagues report the concerning results of a national survey of 938/1,823 American fellows and residents in neurology, finding that 67% of the trainees had at least one symptom of burn-out (high emotional exhaustion or high depersonalization), with 54% endorsing feelings of low personal accomplishment. These results were comparable to the recent finding by Dr. Neil Busis and colleagues that 60% of AAN member neurologists had at least one symptom of burnout. These studies underscore an inconvenient truth – physician burnout is a real problem and many of us are at risk.

That studies like these are being undertaken and published in high-impact journals is itself an encouraging indication of our profession’s maturation and acknowledgement of the burn-out problem. What we do about it is, as always, the tougher question. Importantly, Levin et al found that trainees with greater satisfaction with work-life balance, who found their work meaningful, and (for fellows) had effective support staff, were at a lower risk of burn-out. Similarly, Busis et al also found that the meaning neurologists found in their work was the largest driver of career satisfaction, in addition to job autonomy, effectiveness of support staff, age, and percentage of time in clinical practice. This is further evidence that mitigating the problem of burnout should involve an active, collaborative optimization of our work environment and not just throwing out life-vests to specific individuals at risk. Further studies of potential solutions to address burn-out are the next step forward.

See the full pdf article “Burnout, career satisfaction, and well-being among US neurology residents and fellows in 2016” by Levin et al at http://www.neurology.org/content/89/5/492.full.pdf+html

See the full pdf article “Burnout, career satisfaction, and well-being among US neurologists in 2016” by Busis et al at http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2017/01/25/WNL.0000000000003640.full.pdf+html

Aravind Ganesh

Aravind Ganesh

Resident & Fellow Editorial Team Member Neurology Resident, University of Calgary

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