Burnout: have we been suffering in silence?
The desire to feel infallible has remained integral to a surgeon’s career for decades. The need to be calm under stress, to operate under the toughest of conditions, to deal with other people’s emotions has been part and parcel of the job. Most doctors can relate to stories of colleagues/bosses who were difficult to deal with. Those who would quickly fly off the handle when something unexpected happened, had started to lose their passion for their job or even resorted to alcohol/drugs in order to deal with stressful situations.
There are a few different scenarios that can arise in a situation like this. Do you ignore it, tell yourself it’s none of your business, or that it’s a lost cause? Do you assume that that they’re suffering from depression or that maybe it’s a family/home matter? Or, could these symptoms be a sign of burnout? When did we as surgeons decide that we were immune to burnout? Is this simply a concoction of surgeons abnormally in touch with their emotions, or is it possible that in our own arrogance and ignorance of our own ability, this is a condition that has remained undetected for generations.
What is absolutely clear is that as surgeons, we are very susceptible to the effects and symptoms of burnout, and in fact the numbers are surprising. Depression, suicidal thoughts, substance misuse, family disharmony in any other individual would be taken extremely seriously by occupational health or mental health services, so why are they brushed over in surgery? Furthermore, why are we the main culprits? Research into the world of surgical burnout is increasing rapidly. It would appear that urologists are particularly prone to burnout, with high levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation. Interestingly, many of the factors that lead to burnout in urologists have nothing to do with any of the things that we’ve been trained for, and instead include things like administrative workload and resource management. There is an increasing realisation that occupational health and human resources need to take a proactive role in detection and treatment of burnout, but the first step requires us to realise that something is amiss, and to accept that things need to change. Is it now time to take care of the caretakers?
Have you suffered from burnout? Have you worked with colleagues who suffered burnout that wasn’t recognised? Share your experiences below.