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A Look at Burnout Among Head & Neck Surgeons

Burnout among surgeons continues to be problematic for the medical community. In addition to the psychological unpleasantness that is associated with burnout, the phenomenon can lead to more severe problems, including professional and personal dysfunction. In severe cases, the results can negatively impact patient care and potentially put patients at risk for harm. Previously published studies have defined burnout syndrome by three work-related occurrences: 1. High emotional exhaustion (EE): the feeling of being emotionally overextended and exhausted by work. 2. High depersonalization (DP): the adoption of a callous or dehumanized perception of others. 3. A low sense of personal accomplishment (PA): the feeling of dissatisfaction with one’s job-related achievements. Collectively, these components can be helpful for establishing the degree of burnout among surgeons. Cause & Effect In an effort to understand more completely the cause and effect of burnout on outcomes, my colleagues and I published a study in the October 2010 Archives of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery in which we administered a questionnaire to 60 microvascular free-flap (MVFF) head and neck surgeons. Our goal was to determine the prevalence of professional burnout among MVFF surgeons using EE, DP, and PA as key components. We also wanted to identify modifiable risk factors with the intent of reducing burnout in MVFF surgeons. Our investigation showed that 2% of responding MVFF surgeons experienced high burnout, while 73% had moderate burnout and 25% had low burnout. When compared with other otolaryngology academic faculty and department chairs, MVFF surgeons had similar or lower levels of burnout. Although MVFF surgeons experienced high personal accomplishment, they also had low-to-moderate scores that assessed EE and DP. High EE...
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