Surgeons may be unaware of own level of burnout

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1. Surgeons were not able to reliably predict their individual level of burnout compared to other physicians. 

2. As a result of this survey and feedback tool, almost half stated that they would contemplate changing their behavior to enhance their well-being.

Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Average)

Study Rundown: The authors developed and validated the Medical Student Well-Being Index and the Mayo Clinic Physician Well-Being Index. As part of an American College of Surgeons initiative to promote surgeon well-being, participation in the survey and intervention was offered to ACS fellows and associate fellows. Over a thousand chose to participate. Their results, compared to national physician normative data, demonstrated that most of those experiencing burnout were not aware of their distress, but were willing to contemplate behavior change based on the results of the survey. Authors asserted that this intervention helped participants to progress from a pre-contemplative to contemplative stage of behavior change.

Although the study utilized a well-validated survey tool, it is limited by the cross-sectional nature as well as lack of randomization, and would provide more data if participants were assessed longitudinally. It’s difficult to generalize study results because participants were chosen through self-selection, although prior ACS member studies displayed similar demographic distributions.

Click to read the study in Annals of Surgery

Relevant Reading: Burnout and Career Satisfaction Among American Surgeons

In-Depth [cross-sectional study]: Of 8,000 surgeons e-mailed through ACS, 1,150 volunteered to participate. Study participants were 84.2% men, their median age was 53 years and have been in practice for a median of 20 years with almost half in private practice. The vast majority thought that their well-being was at or above average of other physicians and just 2.2% assessed their well-being as being in the bottom 30% compared to other physicians. However, the results of the survey demonstrated that 24% of surgeons were in the bottom 30%. Of those in the bottom third, 70.5% believed themselves to be at or above average – with 24% who thought that their well-being was above average. Half of the tested surgeons indicated that knowing how their well-being compares with other physicians was “somewhat” to “extremely” helpful, while the other half said that this feedback was “slightly helpful” or “not helpful.” Interestingly, surgeons with good well-being scores found the feedback more helpful than those with low well-being scores. Approximately half stated that they considered making a change as a result of this feedback.

By Asya Ofshteyn and Allen Ho

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