One in three doctors have suffered burnout, study finds

Survey on hospital doctors finds 80% of respondents have worked when ill or injured

One in three doctors working in Ireland have experienced burnout while one in 10 say they have suffered severe levels of depression, anxiety and stress, according to a new study.

The National Study of Wellbeing of Hospital Doctors in Ireland found doctors worked on average 57 hours a week, with just 20 per cent saying they had enough time for family and personal life.

Four out of five doctors reported going to work at times when they were ill or injured.

The study, led by Dr Blánaid Hayes, dean of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s Faculty of Occupational Medicine, surveyed hospital doctors in Ireland at trainee and consultant level across all specialities.

“This study has addressed a gap in the knowledge-base on the health and wellbeing of hospital doctors in this country, including the challenges posed by stress and mental ill health,” Dr Hayes said.

Staff shortages

“As an occupational physician, I know first-hand that this is a problem because I see it in my practice and I hear it from my colleagues in other hospitals too. Front-line healthcare workers and clinicians are presenting with mood disorders and stress-related conditions which are at least in part related to working conditions including staff shortages.”

More than three quarters reported significant work stress and felt the effort put into their work exceeded the rewards gained. Most also had a tendency to over-commit to their work.

Prof Frank Murray, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, said it raised many concerns about the health and wellbeing of those providing care to patients.

“Though the life of a doctor can be very rewarding and we are privileged to be able to improve people’s health, we face challenges every day,” he said

“This research highlights how the stresses and strains placed on our current healthcare system are taking a toll on the front-line staff, which is a serious issue for each of them, but can also impact on the quality and safety of patient care as well as their personal family life.”

Action ‘imperative’

Prof Murray added the findings make it “imperative” that action is taken to “support the health and wellbeing of doctors, which will in turn, directly improve patient safety and outcomes”.

Some areas of the study presented positive findings with over 70 per cent expressing a strong desire to practice medicine. Eight in 10 reported good or better overall health and general quality of life. One in 10 drank alcohol to excess occasionally while 10 per cent smoked.

The study recommended reviewing contractual changes for doctors to help address the current recruitment crisis. It said the welfare of staff “must be a priority” for hospital management, policymakers and the health service.

It also recommended medical training bodies address educational and training deficits while hospital management must pay attention to “the evidence on the links between psychosocial work stressors and psychological health and to use it to plan for change”.