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Burnout, Drop Out, Suicide: Physician Loss in Emergency Medicine, Part I

  • Author(s): Stehman, Christine R.
  • Testo, Zachary
  • Gershaw, Rachel S.
  • Kellogg, Adam R.
  • et al.
Abstract

Each year more than 400 physicians take their lives, likely related to increasing depression and burnout. Burnout—a psychological syndrome featuring emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment—is a disturbingly and increasingly prevalent phenomenon in healthcare, and emergency medicine (EM) in particular. As self-care based solutions have proven unsuccessful, more system-based causes, beyond the control of the individual physicians, have been identified. Such system-based causes include limitations of the electronic health record, long work hours and substantial educational debt, all in a culture of “no mistakes allowed.” Blame and isolation in the face of medical errors and poor outcomes may lead to physician emotional injury, the so-called “second victim” syndrome, which is both a contributor to and consequence of burnout. In addition, emergency physicians (EP) are also particularly affected by the intensity of clinical practice, the higher risk of litigation, and the chronic fatigue of circadian rhythm disruption. Burnout has widespread consequences, including poor quality of care, increased medical errors, patient and provider dissatisfaction, and attrition from medical practice, exacerbating the shortage and maldistribution of EPs. Burned-out physicians are unlikely to seek professional treatment and may attempt to deal with substance abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts alone. This paper reviews the scope of burnout, contributors, and consequences both for medicine in general and for EM in particular.

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