Burnout is a challenge that many people may experience, often due to high-stress careers. While this is true of many professions, Professor Lotte Dyrbye, Professor of Medicine, Medical Education, and Consultant in the Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic, would argue that it is of particular concern for those working in medicine.
“I often get asked, doesn’t everybody have burnout?” she remarked. “Is it really a phenomenon unique to medicine or does it represent a 24/7 society where you have to constantly be connected to your iPhone and to your work?”
After taking a sample of US doctors against US workers, her team found that those in the medical profession presented with higher levels, with 36 per cent increased odds, for burnout.
Professor Dyrbye pointed to the issues of depersonalisation and emotional exhaustion as worrying products of burnout in medicine and also noted that those who were older or married were less likely to suffer from this problem.
She tackled the question of whether the personality of those who enter into medicine is a factor in burnout.
“I also often get asked whether it is a particularly vulnerable person who is attracted to medicine; is it us, not the system? After all, people have written about the physician personality. We are compulsive, we have doubt, guilt and an exaggerated sense of responsibility and in many ways this is adaptive, making us thorough, attentive to detail, and committed to our patients. It can also be very maladaptive, we can have a difficult time relaxing, setting limits, recognising when we’ve done enough, and taking care of ourselves”.
Professor Dyrbye highlighted the high prevalence of burnout and depression among American medical students in particular, when compared to similarly aged U.S. college graduates.
Her justification for her research lay in how burnout, when ignored, can negatively manifest itself in a medical student: “Burnout threatens our medical students’ professionalism”, she warned, listing examples including failing to complete full physical exams, claiming to order a test when they have not, cheating, plagiarising, and being less likely to feel that they need to meet the needs of the underserved or that they can make a difference.
She made a number of recommendations for diminishing burnout among medical students, citing resilience as a key factor in its prevention.
Professor Dyrbye’s spoke gave a keynote speech at the inaugural RCSI Ed-i-Med conference. Her research interests are focused on medical student, resident, and physician well-being and she is the Primary Investigator on Mayo Medical School’s grant “Accelerating Change in Medical Education,” awarded by the AMA.