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As conversations about work-life balance are becoming more prevalent, and given the stresses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a renewed interest in the issue of physician burnout. Burnout is a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment. In recent years, the rising prevalence of burnout among clinicians — more than 50 percent according to a Medscape report — has led to probing questions on how it affects access to care, patient safety and care quality. Burned-out physicians are more likely to leave their practices or the practice of medicine altogether, which reduces patients’ access to and continuity of care. Burnout can also threaten patient safety and care quality when depersonalization leads to poor interactions with patients, and when burned-out physicians suffer from impaired attention, memory and executive function.

In addition to the impact of burnout on physicians and patients, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the health care system loses more than $4.8 billion a year due to this phenomenon. Although neurosurgeons work long hours, balance outpatient and inpatient practices, and deal with life and death issues, we have paid limited attention to burnout in this field.

For the next few weeks, Neurosurgery Blog will highlight the issue of burnout — including in the field of neurosurgery. Here are some staggering facts about burnout in neurosurgery:

  • A recent survey of 783 neurosurgeons found the rate of burnout to be 62.9 percent among nonacademic neurosurgeons and 47.7 percent for academic neurosurgeons;
  • Poor work-life balance, health care reform and financial uncertainty were the major factors contributing to career dissatisfaction; and
  • Burnout and depression — sometimes associated with emotional exhaustion — were a significant predictor of preventable major medical errors in a study using data from 7,905 members of the American College of Surgeons.

Among neurosurgeons, many factors were found to lower the chances of burnout. High volume surgeons, with stable families, who are intellectually challenged, with leadership roles and a good work-life balance, are more effectively shielded against burnout.

Understanding burnout will push more health care organizations to adopt strategies to protect their members from this phenomenon. Physician engagement will undoubtedly be crucial to the prevention of burnout. We must take the lead by being active and vocal for ourselves, our colleagues and our patients and fight against the forces that erode our mental health and the quality of our work.

Join us in an insightful journey, understanding burnout as it pertains to the field of neurosurgery. We aim to identify the reasons behind this phenomenon and the best strategies to prevent it or minimize its impact on the careers of neurosurgeons.

Editor’s note: We hope that you will share what you learn from our posts. We invite you to be part of the conversation on Twitter by following @Neurosurgery and using the hashtag #PhysicianBurnout.

Kimon Bekelis, MD
Vice-chair, AANS/CNS Communications and Public Relations Committee
Catholic Health Services of Long Island
West Islip, N.Y. 



Kristopher T. Kimmell, MD, FAANS
Vice-chair, AANS/CNS Communications and Public Relations Committee
Rochester Regional Health
Rochester, N.Y. 



Clemens M. Schirmer, MD, PhD, FAANS, FAHA
Chair, AANS/CNS Communications and Public Relations Committee
Wilkes Barre, Pa.

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