Monday, November 17, 2008 | Categories: Dr. Brian's Blog
"Physician, heal thyself," goes the saying. Believe me, it's easier said than done. Most MDs I know are reluctant to admit they get bummed out by life and by work. This week on White Coat, Black Art (Monday at 1130 am or Noon NT; Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 430 pm or 5 pm NT) , we examine the phenomenon of burnout in the health professions. A survey in 2003 found that nearly half of Canada's physicians were in advanced stages of burnout.
When I first read that stat, I was skeptical. I've often thought that stats like those are torqued by the organizations that commission them to promote public admiration of physicians. On a more personal level, you can't argue that burnout exists. I have spoken to many colleagues who admit they wish they'd had the courage to quit medicine and try something else. Very few are willing to give up the money and the perks. And they have a point. Doctors have to deal with grief, frustration, demanding patients, and the burden of supporting patients they can't help. One thing they seldom have to hear are the words "you're fired."
But one thing has sure gotten my attention. These days, the most burned out docs aren't middle aged. They aren't even docs. They're med students. In 2006, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found indications of burnout in nearly half of 545 med students. Since then, they've found similar rates at 7 additional medical schools across the United States. As many as 11% of the students had suicidal thoughts.
Should you care? You bet. Studies have shown that as burnout rises, empathy for patients drops. Researchers have called for broader efforts to promote student well-being, which may enhance aspects of professionalism.
Fortunately for you and for us, burnout can be dealt with. Of the students who met criteria for burnout in 2006, more than a quarter of them recovered. Recovery from burnout led to markedly less suicidal thoughts.
This week (Novermber 17-19, 2008), doctors from Canada and around the world in London, UK to help physicians find a balance between work and life. We'll keep an eye on the conference and will bring you developments as warranted.