Burnout in Healthcare Professions: Reigniting the Flame
Background: The term burnout has been used to describe the maladaptive response of individuals to severe stress and high ideals in helping professions.1 The definition is broad and the lack of a good definition leads to only weak approximations of prevalence. However, information provided to the National Institutes of Health by a German institute suggests there are a few signs and symptoms associated with the condition such as exhaustion, alienation from activities, and reduced performance.1 These symptoms overlap considerably with other psychological illnesses. Care should be used to rule out other causes, such as depression or anxiety disorders. Study Objective: We completed a literature review of burnout in healthcare professionals to identify the effects on their mental well-being and work performance, as well as techniques utilized to prevent burnout. Results The prevalence of burnout significantly increased across all medical specialties in the U.S. from from 2011 (45.5%) to 2014 (54.4%). The greatest burnout rate is found in emergency medicine. Satisfaction of work-life balance significantly decreased among all medical specialties in 2014 (40.9% in 2014 versus 28.5% in 2011; n= 6880).2 Burnout varies by career stages, with the highest rate of burnout among medical students and residents, which are on average 10% more prevalent compared to practicing physicians.3 Burnout can have significant negative effects on a person’s mental and physical health, leading to depression and suicide. Untreated burnout can negatively affect a physician’s ability to care for patients, leading to an increase in medical errors, hostile provider-patient interaction, and decrease in patient satisfaction.4 Discussion: Evidence-based techniques used to prevent burnout, before onset include mindfulness activities5, work engagement6, extracurricular activities, mentorship, autonomy, Pass/Fail evaluation, and counseling.7 These prevention techniques appear more effective at eliminating burnout since there are fewer studies evaluating the effectiveness of interventions once burnout has set in. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the following interventions may be effective6: participation in panel and group discussions, conferences, and retreats; self-care through rest and exercise; spending time with family; long-term stress management programs; and mindfulness-based interventions such as reflective writing, meditation, guided imagery, art, movement and music.8 Conclusion: Burnout compromises healthcare professionals’ mental well-being and patient care. The negative implications on the healthcare system due to burnout calls for the development and initiation of evidence-based programs that cater to the prevention of burnout, as well as education on resilience strategies and coping.