Reducing stress and burnout in junior doctors: the impact of debriefing sessions

Nishmi Gunasingam, Kharis Burns, James Edwards, Michael Dinh, Merrilyn Walton
Postgraduate Medical Journal 2015, 91 (1074): 182-7

BACKGROUND: Internship and residency are difficult times with novice practitioners facing new challenges and stressors. Junior doctors may experience burnout, a syndrome that encompasses three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment. While there is some existing literature on the prevalence of burnout in junior doctors, there are few studies on interventional strategies.

AIMS: This study aimed to examine the prevalence of burnout in a cohort of junior doctors and whether debriefing sessions reduced levels of burnout.

METHODS: A prospective randomised controlled study of a convenience sample of postgraduate year 1 doctors in a single hospital was undertaken during a rotation term in 2011. All participants completed a questionnaire using a validated tool, the Maslach Burnout Inventory, to determine the prevalence of burnout. They were then randomly assigned to a group who were to receive four debriefing sessions over 2 months, or, to the control group, who had no debriefing sessions. Quantitative and qualitative analyses were conducted.

RESULTS: Thirty-one postgraduate year 1 doctors participated in the study, with 13 being assigned to the group receiving debriefing sessions and 18 assigned to the control group. At baseline, 21/31 (68%) participants displayed evidence of burnout in at least one domain as measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Burnout was significantly higher in women. There was no significant difference in burnout scores with debriefing. The intervention was well received with 11/18 (61%) suggesting they would recommend the strategy to future junior doctors and 16/18 (89%) found that the sessions were a source of emotional and social support.

CONCLUSIONS: Burnout is prevalent among postgraduate year 1 doctors, and they value the emotional and social support from attending debriefing sessions. A larger study is required to determine if debriefing can reduce the incidence of burnout in junior doctors.

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