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From the Archives
April 2011April 18, 2011

Burnout Among Surgeons: Whether Specialty Makes a Difference

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Surgery, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Maryland (Dr Balch); and Department of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota (Dr Shanafelt).

Arch Surg. 2011;146(4):385-386. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2011.53

Archives of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery

Professional Burnout Among Microvascular and Reconstructive Free-Flap Head and Neck Surgeons in the United States

Stephanie P. Contag, BA; Justin S. Golub, MD; Theodoros N. Teknos, MD; Brian Nussenbaum, MD; Brendan C. Stack Jr, MD; David J. Arnold, MD; Michael M. Johns III, MD

Objectives:   To determine the prevalence of professional burnout among microvascular free-flap (MVFF) head and neck surgeons and to identify modifiable risk factors with the intent to reduce MVFF surgeon burnout.

Design:   A cross-sectional, observational study.

Setting:   A questionnaire mailed to MVFF surgeons in the United States.

Participants:   A total of 60 MVFF surgeons.

Main Outcomes Measures:   Professional burnout was quantified using the Maslach Burnout Inventory–Human Services Study questionnaire, which defines burnout as the triad of high emotional exhaustion (EE), high depersonalization (DP), and low personal accomplishment. Additional data included demographic information and subjective assessment of professional stressors, satisfaction, self-efficacy, and support systems using Likert score scales. Potential risk factors for burnout were determined via significant association (P < .05) by Fisher exact tests and analyses of variance.

Results:   Of the 141 mailed surveys, 72 were returned, for a response rate of 51%, and 60 of the respondents were practicing MVFF surgeons. Two percent of the responding MVFF surgeons experienced high burnout (n = 1); 73%, moderate burnout (n = 44); and 25%, low burnout (n = 15). Compared with other otolaryngology academic faculty and department chairs, MVFF surgeons had similar or lower levels of burnout. On average, MVFF surgeons had low to moderate EE and DP scores. High EE was associated with excess workload, inadequate administration time, work invading family life, inability to care for personal health, poor perception of control over professional life, and frequency of irritable behavior toward loved ones (P < .001). On average, MVFF surgeons experienced high personal accomplishment.

Conclusions:   Most MVFF surgeons experience moderate professional burnout secondary to moderate EE and DP. This may be a problem of proper balance between professional obligations and personal life goals. Most MVFF surgeons, nonetheless, experience a high level of personal accomplishment in their profession.