In two studies and an editorial in its Sept. 18 issue, JAMA takes a deep dive into physician burnout, exploring its prevalence among physicians of different specialties and the different—and often nebulous—ways burnout was measured in the past.
Burnout and specialty choice
The first study found that resident physicians in urology, emergency medicine and general surgery were more likely to report symptoms of burnout than internal medicine residents.
The study, a survey of over 3,500 residents, also found that being female and having anxiety in medical school were associated with a greater risk of burnout. Roughly 14% of survey respondents said they regretted their career choice. These physicians were also more likely to report burnout symptoms.
Inconsistent definitions, measurement
The second study, a systematic review, examined 182 studies comprising nearly 110,000 people in 45 countries.
Because of the widely varying definitions of burnout and methods of measuring burnout used in the studies, the review authors found that a definitive scientific conclusion on the prevalence of chronic occupational stress among physicians cannot be determined. They called for development of a consensus definition of physician burnout and a standard way to measure it.
Further understanding needed
“There is clearly something important and worrisome happening to physician well-being,” wrote Thomas L. Schwenk, MD, and Katherine J. Gold, MD, in an editorial that accompanied these studies.
“Speculation about its causes is a worthy place to start in developing hypotheses that could lead to solutions. However, the self-reported symptom of burnout, which is often based on 1 or 2 questions, has rapidly become an accepted marker for an epidemic of physician dissatisfaction and potential self-harm described as a national crisis.”
Before this crisis can be solved, Drs. Schwenk and Gold argue, the profession needs a clearer understanding of its diagnosis, origins and effective ways to prevent and treat it.