study reveals many surgeons are battling professional fatigue addiction and depression

A recently released study in the medical journal Archives of Surgery reveals some very interesting — and highly disturbing — trends regarding surgeons, the physicians in whom we perhaps place our greatest trust.

The study, performed by researchers at some of America’s premier medical facilities, sought to measure the personal and professional consequences of so-called work-home conflicts among surgeons.

While it may seem curious to single out surgeons for such a study, consider that surgeons routinely work an average of 60 hours a week, spend 16 hours or more in the operating room and are on call for at least two days a week. According to the researchers, these conditions make many surgeons — especially younger surgeons and those who don’t work in private practice — prime candidates for domestic strife and other factors that may increase the chance of serious or fatal surgical errors.

What then did the researchers discover about the impact of this domestic strife on surgeons?

In order to answer this question, researchers surveyed over 7,000 members of the American College of Surgeons and found that 52.5 percent reported some sort of work-home conflict within the previous three weeks.

Perhaps even more eye opening, they found the following:

  • Roughly 37 percent of surgeons who reported some sort of work-home conflict experienced some degree of professional burnout as compared to only 17 percent of surgeons who reported no work-home conflicts
  • 50 percent of surgeons who reported some sort of work-home conflict reported feeling depressed as compared to only 28.1 percent of surgeons who reported no work-home conflicts
  • 17 percent of surgeons who reported some sort of work-home conflict indicated that they abused or were addicted to alcohol as compared to 14.4 percent of surgeons who reported no work-home conflicts

The study — which also found that surgeons experiencing work-home conflicts are more likely to cut hours or seek alternate employment — concludes by saying that more needs to be done on an organizational and individual level to reduce occupational stressors.

Curiously, no mention is made of surgical errors/hospital negligence. Doesn’t it stand to reason that surgeons who are burned out, depressed and/or abusing alcohol would somehow be more likely to commit major medical errors?

It certainly is an issue that can and should be explored.

Source: Fierce Healthcare, “Surgeons with no work-life balance abuse alcohol, cut hours,” Karen Cheung, June 20, 2012

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