Physical discomfort, professional satisfaction, and burnout in vascular surgeons

Victor J Davila, Andrew J Meltzer, M Susan Hallbeck, William M Stone, Samuel R Money
Journal of Vascular Surgery 2019, 70 (3): 913-920.e2

OBJECTIVE: Vascular surgeons may experience physical discomfort during open and endovascular procedures. We aimed to understand and quantify the timing, severity, and location of the pain, as well as to identify how pain correlates with other factors.

METHODS: An electronic survey was distributed to 1164 members of the Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery during the summer of 2016. There were 1089 (93.6%) surveys that were successfully delivered and 263 responses received (response rate of 24.2%). The survey was designed to quantify pain before, during, and after surgical procedures using the modified Borg scale. Questions aimed at determining surgeon workload, type of practice, burnout, and professional satisfaction were also included.

RESULTS: Of the 263 total responses, 184 responders were male (82.1%). Workload data revealed that more than 87% of surgeons operate 3 or more days per week and 4 or more hours per day. Lead garments were worn by 48.4% these surgeons every day, with 91.4% wearing lead at least once per week. Pain was present in 74.7% of surgeons before beginning an operation, in 92.3% during an operation, and in 96.8% at completion. Before, during, and after surgery, 12.2% of vascular surgeons (n = 32) experience at least moderate pain. Years in practice had no effect on these results, and although not reaching statistical significance, there was a trend correlating surgeons who wear lead experiencing more pain immediately after performing an operation (P = .090). Of these surgeons, 31.4% acknowledged seeking medical help, although only 4.4% reported pain to their institutions. Professional satisfaction among vascular surgeons was inversely correlated with pain. Those expressing satisfaction with their profession had less pain before and two days after performing surgery (P ≤ .005). Self-reported burnout among surgeons positively correlated with increased pain. Burned out surgeons reported more pain while performing surgery (P ≤ .001), immediately after performing surgery (P ≤ .001), and persistent pain (P ≤ .001).

CONCLUSIONS: Physical discomfort during the performance of daily duties by vascular surgeons is ubiquitous. Our survey shows a correlation between self-reported workplace burnout and an increased severity of work-related pain. Additional studies are needed to determine the causality of these correlations and what potential interventions can be undertaken to decrease all work-related pain.

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