Even residents are at risk for burnout.
Even residents are at risk for burnout. (Image source: Thinkstock)

Though much has been written about physician burnout, few studies are of physician burnout in resident physicians. In this month’s Anesthesia & Analgesia, Dr. Gildasio S. de Oliveira Jr. and colleagues at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, examined burnout and depression among anesthesiology residents in the United States and sought to determine whether burnout and depression were associated with medical errors and inadequate adherence to best practices. Their findings are published in the article “The Prevalence of Burnout and Depression and Their Association with Adherence to Safety and Practice Standards: A Survey of United States Anesthesiology Trainees.”

The authors sent out a survey to 2773 anesthesiology residents throughout the United States and 54% of the survey population responded. The survey included questions from a burnout survey, questions related to a survey used to evaluate depression, questions to identify anesthesiology best practices, and questions concerning the incidence of self-reported errors.

High burnout risk was present in 41% of respondents, 22% screened positively for depression, and high burnout and depression risk was present in 17% of the population. Residents with both high burnout and depression risk reported a higher frequency of self-reported errors. Burnout risk in residents was similar to what was previously reported in program directors and chairs. A decreased adherence to best practices and an increased risk of errors were also seen in those with high burnout risk.

The authors have also previously published work on burnout in program chairs and residency program directors and there may be a relationship between that work and what they found in this study. As a result, there may be a common “cure” to prevent burnout for all physicians. For myself, exercise and sleep helps. Effective approaches might include a reduction in work hours and decreased call burden. However, it is difficult to identify physicians at increased risk for burnout and depression. Also, it is not clear what can be done to reduce burnout. Given that patient safety and care may be compromised by physician burn out, more aggressive approaches may be needed to decrease burnout risk among resident physicians and ensure patient safety.