Avoiding burnout: the personal health habits and wellness practices of US surgeons

Tait D Shanafelt, Michael R Oreskovich, Lotte N Dyrbye, Daniel V Satele, John B Hanks, Jeff A Sloan, Charles M Balch
Annals of Surgery 2012, 255 (4): 625-33

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the health habits, routine medical care practices, and personal wellness strategies of American surgeons and explore associations with burnout and quality of life (QOL).

BACKGROUND: Burnout and low mental QOL are common among US surgeons and seem to adversely affect quality of care, job satisfaction, career longevity, and risk of suicide. The self-care strategies and personal wellness promotion practices used by surgeons to deal with the stress of practice are not well explored.

METHODS: Members of the American College of Surgeons were sent an anonymous, cross-sectional survey in October 2010. The survey included self-assessment of health habits, routine medical care practices, and personal wellness strategies and standardized assessments of burnout and QOL.

RESULTS: Of 7197 participating surgeons, 3911 (55.0%) participated in aerobic exercise and 2611 (36.3%) in muscle strengthening activities, in a pattern consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The overall and physical QOL scores were superior for surgeons' following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations (all P < 0.0001). A total of 3311 (46.2%) participating surgeons had seen their primary care provider in the last 12 months. Surgeons who had seen their primary care provider in the last 12 months were more likely to be up to date with all age-appropriate health care screening and had superior overall and physical QOL scores (all P < 0.0001). Ratings of the importance of 16 personal wellness promotion strategies differed for surgeons without burnout (all P < 0.0001). On multivariate analysis, surgeons placing greater emphasis on finding meaning in work, focusing on what is important in life, maintaining a positive outlook, and embracing a philosophy that stresses work/life balance were less likely to be burned out (all P < 0.0001). Although many factors associated with lower risk of burnout were also associated with achieving a high overall QOL, notable differences were observed, indicating surgeons' need to employ a broader repertoire of wellness promotion practices if they desire to move beyond neutral and achieve high well-being.

CONCLUSIONS: This study identifies specific measures surgeons can take to decrease burnout and improve their personal and professional QOL.

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