Addressing the personal progress and status of individual residents has been one responsibility of training programs and faculty for many decades. We know that each resident brings a spectrum of personal attributes, technical and efficiency capabilities, learning styles, and yes, weaknesses, to a training program. Individual support for residents can be based, in part, on their personal capabilities, emphasizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses, in the context of excellent patient care and professionalism. Faculty role modeling and mentoring with respect to work/life balance, stress management strategies, personal diet and exercise, interpersonal relationship building, importance of family and friends, and ways to enhance the virtues of a physician all play a role in preventing burnout.
Explore this issue:April 2017
Resident physicians in surgical specialties have unique stressors that are different from those in medical specialties—namely, the potential risks and complications that can occur with surgical procedures. When complications occur—and they will—young physicians can be devastated by them. Faculty and/or professional counseling, including post-surgical procedure debriefing and family interaction, can guide them through the emotional trauma while helping them to learn from the events.
So, what are the ethical considerations of burnout in resident physicians? The negative aspects of burnout can adversely affect patient care, effective learning, personal health, and interpersonal relationships. Burnout in a resident, if not addressed and mitigated, can persist into practice, becoming a problem for both patient and physician. The burned-out otolaryngologist is unhappy and depressed, and spreads those feelings to those around him/her, especially to the patient. It is our ethical responsibility to address this issue and discharge our duty to patient, physician, profession, and society.
Dr. Holt is professor emeritus in the department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.