The Burnout Paradox: Why Are We Still Surprised?

The Burnout Paradox: Why Are We Still Surprised?
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Skeptical Scalpel

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last six years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 2,500,000 page views, and he has over 15,500 followers on Twitter.

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Skeptical Scalpel (click to view)

Skeptical Scalpel

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last six years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 2,500,000 page views, and he has over 15,500 followers on Twitter.

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If you go to medical school, you will be stressed—bigly. It should not come as a surprise.

Two posts on the Kevin MD website highlight the problems facing many medical students today.

The first was by an anonymous rising fourth year student who has come to the conclusion that going to medical school was “a terrible, terrible decision.” It ended with a comment that medical school “is not fun. It’s jarring, scary, disappointing and absolutely depressing.”

The second was by another anonymous student who described how miserable he (or she) has been since he started medical school. He said “’burnout’ is the word I would use to best describe my medical school experience.” On the day he wrote his post, he was about to text the surgery residents to tell them he would not be there for the last day of his rotation because he was too anxious.

He mentioned a strong family history of anxiety disorders and being diagnosed with depression and anxiety as he was applying to medical school. He did not disclose this during the application process.

Burnout is not limited to a few students. A literature review in 2013 found “at least half of all medical students may be affected by burnout during their medical education.”

Nor is the problem confined to medical students. A national survey published in Academic Medicine in 2014 found that 58.2% of medical students, 50.8% of residents/fellows, and 40% of early career physicians screened positive for depression.

Last week, Medscape’s 2017 Lifestyle Report, a survey of practicing physicians, found that 51% were burned out—an increase from 40% in 2013. The Medscape results corroborate a 2014 study by Mayo Clinic investigators who found at least one symptom of burnout in 54.4% of practicing physicians compared to 45.5% in 2011.

A survey of surgery residents from 10 New England programs found that work-related stress was said to be at least moderate by 77.1% and severe or extreme by 15.1% of those who responded. The 7.8% who did not feel as stressed must have been on their research rotations.

According to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, applicants to medical school for the 2016-2017 academic year exceeded 53,000. Here’s how it has gone for the last 5 years.

applicants-total

So here is my question. With the evidence that about half of all medical students, residents, and practicing physicians are burned out and all of the blogs and articles about burnout, why are more people applying to medical school in record numbers every year?

If you go to medical school, you will be stressed—bigly. It should not come as a surprise. Like cigarettes, maybe med school applications should contain a warning.

Oh and if you think that medical school and residency are stressful, just wait until you are in practice on your own and responsible for what happens to every single patient you care for.

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last six years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 2,500,000 page views, and he has over 15,500 followers on Twitter.

3 Comments

  1. I love being a physician.I have been in practice for 31yrs.In spite of all the changes,it still is very rewarding to comfort distressed people & to see gratitude in their eyes,when they are treated with respect & dignity.Life is a continuous change & we need to ” sail with the flow”,learn wisely to handle only as much as we can bear, without losing our minds.

    Reply
  2. Most of society is burnt out from lower paying jobs without purpose or hope for the future. Why be miserable without purpose when medicine gives you the opportunity to have a respected higher paying job that many see as having meaning. The stability of medicine is attractive.

    Reply
    • I would be interested in hearing a response to your comment from burned doctors.

      Reply

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