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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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The Problem of Doctor Burnout, Mental Health and Patient Medical Errors

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It isn't uncommon for anyone in any field to experience job burnout at some point in their careers. Unfortunately, job burnout for doctors can be more of a serious problem than someone in marketing, for example. Doctors are also more susceptible to job burnout because of their hectic hours and intense work life, with nearly 1 in 2 physicians reporting at least one symptom of burnout. Burned out doctors are not only more susceptible to relationship problems, but also to more serious and life-threatening issues (to both themselves and patients) including alcohol abuse, poor quality care, and increased medical errors.

These new findings about doctor burnout were recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and was based on a survey of 7,288 physicians that was conducted in 2011. The study was conducted by researchers from Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association. Doctors were given a survey that asked 22 questions pertaining to emotional exhaustion, loss of enthusiasm for their work, feelings of cynicism, and whether they felt a low sense of personal accomplishment. Other questions included how many hours doctors worked each week, how satisfied they were with work-life balance and whether they suffered from depression or suicidal thoughts.

Overall, the doctors that scored the highest on burnout included those on the "front lines" of medical care–emergency room doctors, general internal medicine and family medicine. Nearly 60% of doctors within these areas reported high levels of burnout. The main reason that doctors experienced burnout was the long hours that they tended to work; the results of the survey showed that doctors worked an average of 10 more hours per week than other professionals. However, the researchers point out that it is difficult to address the problem of long work hours and that it is nevertheless important to find solutions to support doctors at the organizational, individual and societal level. Addressing these problems would help to prevent medical errors and adverse patient outcomes.