Stress and burnout among colorectal surgeons and colorectal nurse specialists working in the National Health Service

A Sharma, D M Sharp, L G Walker, J R T Monson
Colorectal Disease 2008, 10 (4): 397-406

BACKGROUND: It has been suggested that changes to the organization of the National Health Service (NHS) and clinical practices in dealing with cancer are associated with increased stress and burnout in healthcare professionals. The aim of this study, therefore, was to evaluate stress and burnout in colorectal surgeons (surgeons) and colorectal clinical nurse specialists (nurses) working in the NHS.

METHOD: A list of all consultant surgeons and nurses was obtained from The Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland. Participants were sent a questionnaire booklet consisting of standardized measures [General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), Coping Questionnaire] and various ad hoc questions to obtain information about demographics, cancer workload and job satisfaction. Independent predictors of clinically significant distress and burnout were identified using logistic regression.

RESULTS: Four hundred and fifty-five surgeons and 326 nurses were sent booklets. The response rate was 55.6% in surgeons and 54.3% in nurses. The mean age of the nurses was lower than that of surgeons (42.8 vs 47.7, P < 0.001). Psychiatric morbidity was similar in the surgeons and nurses as assessed using the GHQ (30.2% and 30.3% respectively). On the MBI, compared with nurses, surgeons had significantly higher levels of depersonalization (17.4%vs 7.4%, P = 0.003) and lower personal accomplishment (26.6%vs 14.2%, P = 0.002). Seventy-seven per cent of surgeons and 63.4% of nurses stated their intention to retire before the statutory retirement age. Coping strategies, especially those in which respondents isolated themselves from friends and family, were associated with higher psychiatric morbidity and burnout. Dissatisfaction with work, intention to retire early, intention to retire as soon as affordable and poor training in communication and management skills were also significantly associated with high GHQ scores and burnout in both groups.

DISCUSSION: We found high levels of psychiatric morbidity and burnout in this national cohort of surgeons and nurses working in the NHS. However, psychiatric morbidity and burnout were unrelated to cancer workload. Nurses have lower burnout levels than surgeons and this may be related to their different working practices, responsibilities and management structure.

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