NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Occupational burnout is pervasive among health care providers, but physicians have the power to address the issue head on with both individual and organizational interventions, according to a presentation at Hospital Medicine 2019.
“Physician burnout is not a mental health issue,” Tait Shanafelt, MD, chief wellness officer at Stanford Medicine, said during his presentation.
Burnout is an occupational syndrome that is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and low sense of personal achievement, according to Shanafelt.
“The fundamental premise is that burnout is not due to a character flaw or problem in the individual,” he said.
Rather it is due to a system flaw in the work environment, he said.
While burnout is not specific to medicine, physicians have a greater risk, according to Shanafelt. Approximately half of physicians have at least one symptom of burnout, he said.
When categorizing burnout by specialty, there is wide variation, but emergency medicine specialists appear to have the highest risk, he said.
Medical students tend to have lower burnout rates than college graduates pursuing other fields, but that trend is reversed by the second year of medical school and burnout surges during residency and hits its peak mid-career, he said.
There are several professional and personal repercussions of burnout, including higher risk for divorce, alcohol use, depression and suicide, Shanafelt said.
“We are not victims and not powerless in addressing this problem,” he said.
There are things that physicians and health care systems can do to reduce burnout, but both individual and system interventions are needed, he emphasized.
Individual physicians should identify their main values, optimize meaning in work and nurture personal wellness activities, including relationships, hobbies and self-care, according to Shanafelt. In addition, organizations should acknowledge and assess the problem, harness the power of leadership, cultivate community, promote flexibility and work-life integration and provide resources to promote resilience and self-care, he said.
Addressing burnout will be a journey and begins with taking the first step to drive change, Shanafelt concluded. – by Alaina Tedesco
Shanafelt T, et al. The high cost of clinician burnout: Organizational approaches to clinician wellness. Presented at: Hospital Medicine 2019. March 25-27; National Harbor, Md.
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