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New Survey Shows Significant “Burnout” Among U.S. Neurosurgeons

nonstaff-boop_frederick-0903Guest post from Frederick A. Boop, MD
Professor and J. T. Robertson Chairman
Department of Neurosurgery
University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis
St Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Memphis, TN

Although the practice of medicine can be incredibly meaningful and personally fulfilling, it is also demanding and stressful. To this end, a new survey published in the Journal of Neurosurgery helps to shed light on factors associated with career satisfaction and burnout among U.S. neurosurgeons.

Burnout, defined as “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment” has been linked to an increase in medical errors, a decrease in patient satisfaction, and early retirement among physicians.

To investigate this issue, the authors of the survey partnered with the Council of State Neurosurgical Societies (CSNS) to transform a previously published pilot study into a national online survey. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) then sent out the updated survey to their membership, which was designed to assess neurosurgeons’ career satisfaction, as well as factors associated with “burnout.” Nearly 800 neurosurgeons, or one-quarter of AANS members, responded.

Work Life BalanceThe majority of those responding were mid-career surgeons ages 40-60, who were married, had children and were in a stable relationship. The good news: 81 percent voiced satisfaction with their career and 70 percent stated that they would make the same career choice if they had it to do over again.

The bad news: nearly 60 percent of survey respondents voiced symptoms of burnout in their professional lives. Only 16 percent of respondents felt that their professional life was likely to improve in the future. The factor most associated with career satisfaction included “striking a balance between work (the majority of neurosurgeons work 50-70 hours per week) and home life.”

The following key factors associated with burnout where identified by the survey:

  • Uncertainty about the changes brought forth by healthcare reform;
  • Demands of taking emergency call; and
  • Anxiety over future earnings;

This survey, one of the largest to address career satisfaction among physicians, documents higher rates of burnout among neurosurgeons than has been recorded in other healthcare subspecialties in the past. The most important takeaway from this survey is that it’s the first to highlight the impact that healthcare reform and regulation is having upon neurosurgical practitioners in our country. Furthermore, and much to neurosurgeons’ dismay, it illustrates that healthcare has turned into an industry, forcing physicians to comply with a growing list of burdensome and unnecessary regulations, rather than focusing on patient care.

McAbee, JH, Ragel BT, McCartney S, Jones GM, Michael LM II, DeCuypere M, et al: Factors associated with career satisfaction and burnout among US neurosurgeons: results of a nationwide survey. J Neurosurg [epub ahead of print February 13, 2015] DOI: 10.3171/2014.12.JNS141348.

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