Speakers Offer Strategies for Extinguishing Physician Burnout

Surgeons are known for their attention to detail, work ethic, and commitment to patients, but these traits can lead to feelings of failure and result in burnout.

The ramifications are far-reaching. A 2008 American College of Surgeons survey found 40% of surgeons fit the diagnostic criteria for burnout, 30% screened positive for depression, 28% had a mental quality of life score more than half a standard deviation below the US population norm, and 15% had thoughts of taking their own lives.

Beyond these personal burdens, a 2010 ACS survey on burnout and self-reported medical errors found 9% of surgeons reported that they made a major medical error in the past 3 months, with the greatest contributing factor being a lapse in judgment.

Susan D. Moffatt-Bruce, MD, PhD, MBA

Susan D. Moffatt-Bruce, MD, PhD, MBA

Speakers at the Patient Safety Symposium on “Resilience or Burnout—Do We Have a Choice?” will explore the causes and consequences of burnout, as well as methods to mitigate its impact.

“We all recognize as surgeons, particularly cardiothoracic surgeons, that a lot of external forces influence how we have to perform and are portrayed. It’s exhausting,” said session moderator Susan D. Moffatt-Bruce, MD, PhD, MBA. “We’ll look at how we can help make our surgeons healthier. To do that, they need to have the right amount of resilience and mindfulness.”

A co-author of both ACS studies, Charles M. Balch, MD, PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, is one of four symposium presenters. Dr. Balch is a surgical oncologist and will discuss work-related stress and burnout in surgery.

“He understands the pressures and stresses that lead to burnout for surgeons,” said Dr. Moffatt-Bruce, of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

Wayne M. Sotile, PhD will provide techniques to help attendees improve their resilience. A physician life coach, he runs the Sotile Center for Resilience in Davidson, N.C., which provides clinical and counseling services to physicians and medical organizations.

After a question-and-answer period, the next speaker will explain how institutions can address physician burnout. “Many people in the room will be leaders, and we will explain how they can support their physicians to help them be successful,” said Dr. Moffatt-Bruce, a member of the STS Workforce on Patient Safety.

Maryanna Klatt, PhD, a professor of clinical family medicine at Wexner, will share her expertise. She currently leads a course on workplace mindfulness-based interventions to reduce stress levels in the medical center’s surgical intensive care units. A yoga expert, Dr. Klatt employs stretching, meditation, yoga, and other activities to improve resilience in stressful situations.

“Surgeons are not alone, and this is a real problem. However, there are some techniques and tools that address burnout and can improve resilience and mindfulness,” Dr. Moffatt-Bruce said. “We all went into health care, and particularly surgery, because we wanted to help patients. Now, I think we have to focus on our own wellness as surgeons, so we can continue providing the highest level of care possible for our patients.”

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