But job satisfaction does not erase burnout risk

More than half of heart and lung surgeons (54.1%) really like their jobs, but almost the same number (55.7%) are showing signs of burnout, which makes it difficult to discern a takeaway message from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons’ workforce survey.

In a prepared statement, lead author John S. Ikonomidis, MD, PhD, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel HillIkonomidis said “Cardiothoracic surgery — as a ’frontline’ surgical specialty — is at great risk for burnout and depression because of high stress and long working hours. Surgeons must be honest with themselves regarding symptoms and take steps to prevent burnout and depression.” Survey results were published in Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

Although the survey didn’t track specific causes of burnout, Ikonomidis suggested that “time-consuming, often counter-intuitive, and frustrating” implementation of electronic medical records, as well as increased scrutiny on surgeon productivity and outcomes, are among the factors that have likely impacted the personal well-being and emotional health of cardiothoracic surgeons.

It should also be noted that only 27.9% of the 3,834 survey recipients actually returned the 70-question survey — a measurable decline from the 29.1% return rate in 2014 and almost 30% lower than the responses received in 2009.

“The reasons for this are not entirely clear but may reflect reluctance to commit the response time in the face of an increasing burden of various survey requests extended to surgeons,” Ikonomidis wrote. “A recent American College of Surgeons workforce survey, polling more than 3,800 surgeons over 2 months, resulted in a 15% response rate. Within the current survey, the reported statistical model predicted only a 2.5% data variance with 95% confidence, but it is possible that this low response rate has introduced some biases into the present survey results. New methods of obtaining these data with a more robust surgeon response are required.”

Among the findings from the STS survey:

  • The number of women choosing careers in thoracic surgery is increasing, but men still dominate, making up 91.6% of the specialty versus 93.1% in 2014.
  • The specialty skews older, with an average age of 56 — 2 years older than the average in 2014 — and about a 30% are in the seventh decade of life.
  • About a third of thoracic surgeons said they entered practice free of medical school debt, but close to 30% entered practice owing anywhere from $100,000 to more than $150,000 to their medical school.
  • More than two-thirds (69.5%) said their average work week ranged from 51 to 80 hours, but 14.8% said they worked fewer than 50 hours a week.
  • A third of the responders said they were doing more procedures now than they were a year ago.

Thoracic surgeons continue to be well-paid, with 60.9% reporting annual incomes in the $200,000-$799,999 range and 27% reporting incomes of $800,000 or more.

“More than half of surgeons (57.7%) reported that their income included a bonus structure, and that bonuses were most commonly based on work relative value units (wRVUs) (68.9%), quality metrics (64.0%), or ’citizenship’ (45.6%). When asked about income satisfaction, only 10.9% of surgeons reported they were ’not at all satisfied’ with their income, and the remaining 89.1% reported various levels of satisfaction with their income,” the authors wrote.

Peggy Peck, Editor-in-Chief, BreakingMED

Cat ID: 159

Topic ID: 97,159,730,308,309,5,634,192,159,312,492,635