Most microvascular and reconstructive free-flap head and neck surgeons experience at least moderate professional burnout, according to a study published in October 2010 in the Archives of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery (136(10):950-956).
Explore this issue:August 2011
How is burnout defined? It’s not the same thing as depression, said Ted Teknos, MD, one of the co-authors of the study, professor and division director of head and neck surgery and David E. Schuller, MD, and Carol H. Schuller chair of head and neck oncologic surgery at the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus."Burnout is defined as a high degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization and a low sense of personal accomplishment. It’s your view of your job."
In some respects, otolaryngologists are fortunate when it comes to burnout, Dr. Teknos said."There have been a number of studies looking at burnout amongst different disciplines, and otolaryngology actually ranks better than ob-gyn and a number of other surgical disciplines, like general surgery," he said."We’re in a little bit better shape."
Indeed, perhaps one of the most surprising findings in the study was how little severe burnout there was among the surgeons surveyed. Among the 60 practicing microvascular free-flap head and neck surgeons who responded, just one reported high burnout. Moderate burnout affected 73 percent of the respondents, and a full 25 percent of surgeons actually said their burnout levels were low. (The study defined burnout as"the triad of high emotional exhaustion (EE), high depersonalization (DP) and low personal accomplishment.")
"That surprised us," said Brian Nussenbaum, MD, FACS, Christy J. and Richard S. Hawes III professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., also a co-author of the study."We thought the distribution would be more towards high-moderate burnout, rather than moderate to low."
When the authors looked at the data further, they uncovered the reason for their unexpected results."The reason why burnout wasn’t at a higher level was because of the high sense of personal accomplishment most respondents reported," Dr. Nussenbaum said."In fact, 95 percent of people in the study said that they would become microsurgeons again."
But that doesn’t mean that burnout isn’t a problem in otolaryngology. Other related studies such as a 2005 study in the Laryngoscope (115(11):2056-2061) that focused on chairs of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery, have similarly found moderate levels of burnout in different populations within the field.