Survey of Surgeons Shows Mental Health Issues, Burnout are Major Concerns

Surgeons are typically charged with some of the most exacting demands in modern medicine and health technology, and often participate in complex and lengthy procedures that require a considerable level of concentration and focus. The trust that surgical clients place in their doctors as well as the personal drive to perform as precisely as possible lead to a strong motivation to do good work, but many surgeons may face exhausting schedules and emotional scenes that tax on personal well-being. In a field where this taxation extends not only to the surgeon but to their clients as well, mental health issues and overall burnout are taken seriously within the medical field. To help tackle the presence of such issues in today’s surgeons, a study supported by both Johns Hopkins University and the Mayo Clinic has recently been conducted and has published its results in the journal Annals of Surgery.

The study focused on a survey of nearly eight thousand surgeons who were asked a series of questions about their own well-being and any symptoms of burnout or other mental health concerns. The data showed that forty percent of responding surgeons reported feeling burnt out –an alarmingly high number given that the same surgeons noted they were more likely to commit errors during procedures when feeling this way. Around nine percent of the respondents reported making a major medical error in the past three months, as well.

Though working in the medical environment may improve access to mental health care, many surgeons may not seek such services for a variety of reasons, including stigma or the idea that getting through difficult periods unaided is the most desirable option. The study promotes colleague intervention and greater discussion about mental health among the surgical community.

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • NICOLE

    NICOLE

    November 28th, 2009 at 2:54 AM

    It is quite surprising to read that professionals in the medical fraternity themselves have qualms about seeking help from the relevant specialist and that too after knowing well that they tend to commit mistakes if this burn-out situation is left unchecked.

  • Nancy

    Nancy

    November 28th, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    We put so much pressure on surgeons and doctors in general to be perfect that it does not surprise me to hear that many of them suffer from the same stress and anxiety that the rest of us do yet they have problems seeking out the help that they should know that they need. When I see things like this it only further assures me that we have miles and miles to go before people can accept mental illness as a reality and that they still look on it shamefully and think that people are lesser for admitting that they may have a problem in this area. And think about the responsibility that surgeons hold but then they don’t think that they can get help for what ails them. What a tragedy this could really end up being if they could not deal with their everyday problems and it could affect their performance in the OR in a negative way. Now think how you would really feel about that if it was you or a family member lying on that operating table. I would much rather deal with a doctor who realizes his limitations and knows when he needs help instead of one who thinks that he is superman and can deal with everything on his own. NO one is good enough to do that.

  • chloe

    chloe

    November 29th, 2009 at 3:53 AM

    It is very disturbing to know that such a large chunk of surgeons suffer from burn-out and tend to commit mistakes… but we cannot blame them either… they are constantly under a lot of pressure and any person would feel burnt out. I think what people, everybody in general, need is counselling and also need to be taught how to deal with stress.

  • Pauline

    Pauline

    November 29th, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    If nine percent are actually owning up to making mistakes, you know that the number who atually have made mistakes and will not admit to it is probably double that. Certainly makes me think twice about turning myself over to surgeons if they are experiencing that much burnout and high level of mistakes. Realistically I know that we all make mistakes on the job, but for some of us the stakes are definitely a little higher! Alternative medicine is looking better and better.

  • kennedy

    kennedy

    November 30th, 2009 at 3:03 AM

    This not only affects the surgeons but their patients as well. Hence it must be amended with utmost importance…

  • ronald jerrins

    ronald jerrins

    November 30th, 2009 at 11:12 AM

    The pressures of working to save a human life are immense and this burnout seems to be a direct result of that pressure. While burn our does lead to mistakes by the surgeons, they should remind themselves that an error can prove to be fatal for the patient and they also need all the help they can get from their respective health facilities.

  • MILTON

    MILTON

    December 1st, 2009 at 11:06 AM

    reduction in working hours and a calm environment in hospitals is what can be done to try and reduce or even prevent the burn out currently being experienced by a lot of surgeons.this is possible with the induction of additional health care personnel at the various facilities.

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