Physician burnout has become increasingly recognized over the past few decades. While more seasoned physicians certainly experience it, younger physicians and surgeons may be more susceptible to developing burnout, perhaps in part because they have not yet developed appropriate coping mechanisms for the needs of their jobs. The following scenario depicts a situation that can be found in many otolaryngology residency programs. How would you handle the situation?
Explore this issue:April 2017
You are the program director of a mid-sized otolaryngology residency program. You feel it is important to keep a close eye on all aspects of residency training, especially the welfare of the residents and their patients. You have regular formal discussions with each of the residents about their progress, as well as infrequent, more personal discussions designed to listen to their thoughts and comments.
You find yourself increasingly concerned about the welfare of two of your residents—one a PGY-2 and the other a PGY-4. To different degrees, both of these young professionals are exhibiting subtle, but clear, changes in their personalities and work, including distancing themselves from their colleagues and faculty, showing signs of emotional exhaustion and physical tiredness, and exhibiting some lapses in the quality of their patient care.
When you bring up this issue at the next closed faculty meeting, you find that other faculty members have noticed the changes, but they express the opinion that perhaps the two residents are just going through a “phase.” Believing it may be more significant and serious than that, you plan to research the issue of burnout in residency training, especially for otolaryngology residents, before you develop a plan for discussing the collective faculty concerns with each of them.
Over the past 15 years, physician burnout has become an increasingly recognized entity in the profession, with a growing literature base to reflect its importance. In a survey of surgeons, the American College of Surgeons identified, among the 7,905 respondents, a 40% burnout rate, a 30% positive screen for symptoms of depression, and a mental quality of life score one-half standard deviation below the population norm (Ann Surg. 2009;250:463–471). Numerous studies have confirmed this range of burnout over many specialties, both medical and surgical. Burnout occurs in both community practitioners and academic faculty alike, and it occurs in military physicians working in a high tempo combat deployment environment. Concerns about the effects of this level of physician burnout on patient care are clearly appropriate.