Psychological morbidity and burnout in palliative care doctors in Western Australia

D A Dunwoodie, K Auret
Internal Medicine Journal 2007, 37 (10): 693-8

BACKGROUND: Medicine and particularly palliative care are considered to be stressful professions, with risks of psychological morbidity and burnout. There is little published work quantitatively documenting their prevalence among medical practitioners practising in palliative care.

METHODS: Three questionnaires, including the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) and the Maslach Burnout Inventory, were sent to palliative care practitioners in Western Australia.

RESULTS: Forty-one of 43 (95%) practitioners completed the questionnaires. The mean score on the GHQ-12 was 1.9 (range 0-8), with 11 (27%) scoring 4 or more. On the Maslach Burnout Inventory, mean scores on the emotional exhaustion (EE, mean 17.5, range 1-47) and depersonalization subscales (DP, 4.5, 0-24) fell within the low range, with scores for personal accomplishment (39, 32-46) falling within the average range. Ten respondents (24%) scored high on either the EE subscale or the DP subscale, meeting criteria for burnout. GHQ-12 scores were associated with hours of work per week in palliative care (P = 0.004). The EE (P = 0.024) and DP (P = 0.006) components of burnout were associated with years of work in palliative care. Specialist practitioners were more likely to score in the high category for GHQ-12 (odds ratio = 4.8, P = 0.036) and EE (odds ratio = 8.33, P = 0.031). GHQ (P = 0.038) and DP (P = 0.006) scores were higher in those working in tertiary institutions, with tertiary practitioners more likely to be in the high EE category (odds ratio = 7.5, P = 0.034).

CONCLUSION: Levels of psychiatric morbidity and burnout in palliative medicine are not higher than in other specialties.

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