Healthcare providers have chosen a careerpath that is both taxing and rewarding. The high stress of an education andcareer in healthcare takes a toll on the mental health of providers, leading towhat is commonly referred to as “burnout.” Many factors affect which healthcareproviders will fall victim to job stress and eventual burnout, including theprovider’s experience during their education, their demographic information,and their personality traits. Understanding who will most likely be affected byburnout is important for identification and treatment before there is anegative effect on the quality of healthcare provided to the public.According to the U.S.
Health and HumanServices Department, burnout is described as “emotional exhaustion that resultsin depersonalization and decreased personal accomplishment at work”.1Burnout is problematic for healthcare providers and the public becauseacknowledging the individual needs of each patient is vital to the encounterand relationship between a provider and patient. Without respect for eachpatient as a person seeking their treatment and advice, healthcare providersmay be unknowingly putting the patient at risk. When providers are emotionallydrained, they may be lacking the compassion and drive necessary to elicitinformation during a patient visit, which may then lead to poor qualitytreatment that is not suited to the patient’s underlying issues. Makingproviders aware of the issues associated with burnout and their risk factorswill provide them with the chance to take preventative measures to avoid givingsubstandard care to their patients.
The dangers of healthcare provider burnoutto the public is concerning, but it is important to understand what may becausing burnout to decrease its occurrence. One study examined the prevalenceof burnout in third year medical students based on whether they were mistreatedby faculty or residents. The study found that students who claimed that theywere repeatedly mistreated by healthcare faculty were 29.5% more likely toscore high on the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which is a scale that uses emotionaleffects of stress in conjunction with depersonalization to determine burnout;and students who claimed that they were repeatedly mistreated by residents were17% more likely to score high on the Maslach Burnout Inventory.2Medical students beginning rotations are already likely to be anxious about theirperformance and knowledge when they begin seeing patients in a clinicalsetting, and mistreatment by the faculty and residents who are there to helpthem learn may lend to the amount of stress that leads them to feel burnt out.The residents and faculty that mistreat students may be suffering from burnoutthemselves, causing them to treat students poorly without the intention ofcausing harm to public or the student.
By encouraging constructive criticismand enforcing better treatment of students by their teachers, the frequency ofburnout symptoms of medical students may be decreased during their clinicalrotations.The sex and age of physicians are factorsthat can be used to determine which groups of people are most susceptible tosymptoms that contribute to burnout. According to a study of 15,150 physiciansand 45,450 controls, male physicians have a higher odds ratio of having treatedanxiety than women physicians, and physicians older than 35 years old had alower odds ratio than younger physicians of having treated depression.3This study deals with treated mental health conditions, and the results couldbe drastically different if untreated conditions could be easily accounted for.
There is stigma associated with mental illness, and the differences in the oddsratios for treated depression between older and younger physicians may beassociated with a change in the way that society views mental illness andjudges those affected by it. If physicians feel that they can seek help withoutany adverse effects to their position or relationships with peers, they willhave the opportunity to manage stress or mental health symptoms before theylead to burnout.Personality traits may predispose aspiringor practicing physicians to stress, anxiety, or depression associated withburnout. A study of Norwegian junior physicians found that those with thetraits of neuroticism and “reality weakness,” defined as “experiencing oneselfbeing totally different at different points in time and feeling like being in afog,”4 were more likely to have stress reaction symptoms duringtheir education, which agrees with past studies on medical students and practicingphysicians.5 Emotional reactions associated with neuroticism andpersonality disorders can be logically correlated with a greater likelihood ofstress reactions in high-stress environments, such as medical school. With aconstant barrage of stressful situations, medical school provides theconditions that can cause burnout in students with an inability to manage theiremotions and subsequent reactions to stress. By acknowledging the stressful conditions associated with careers inhealthcare at the beginning of healthcare educational programs, resources maybe provided to help students successfully manage their emotions, avoid highlevels of stress, and prevent eventual burnout.
Based on the factors that may contributeto burnout, there are steps that can be taken to decrease the likelihood ofburnout or minimize its effects on the provider and the public. Preventing realor perceived mistreatment of medical students by their superiors is one stepthat can be taken to decrease added stress while learning in, and acclimatingto, a healthcare setting. An environment that fosters learning withconstructive criticism and respect could be beneficial to medical students andthe residents or faculty working with them. By identifying which students orhealthcare providers may be at risk for burnout and providing them with a comfortableenvironment to discuss their emotions and mental health history, prompt andeffective treatment for burnout symptoms can be provided. Also, by determiningthe personality traits of students and providers, better resources can beprovided to help at-risk individuals find ways to address their emotions orseek help when necessary.
There may not be an easy solution to the high-stresssituations of the healthcare profession, but there are various methods that canbe implemented to decrease the occurrence of burnout and the impact it has onpatient care