Critical care docs likely to experience burnout

Physicians working in intensive care units are at high risk for burnout, and experts want those doctors to know they are not alone.

Curt Sessler, M.D., said at a panel during the Society of Critical Care Medicine’s 46th Critical Care Congress that the long hours and high-stakes choices made by intensive care unit physicians can make the job especially grueling, according to an article (reg. req.) from Medscape Medical News.

Sessler, a critical care physician for VCU Health, told the panel that the effects of burnout can reach far beyond doctors themselves to the organization they work for and the patients under their care. Inefficiency, absenteeism and frequent staff turnover can all be linked to burnout, he said.

"We need to get away from the stigma," Panelist Marc Moss, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said at the panel. 

RELATED: 4 ways to reduce physician stress and burnout

Recent research has found that up to 45% of critical care physicians experience severe burnout, a rate that reached 71% among those in pediatric intensive care. Almost all healthcare leaders—about 96% of respondents to a recent NEJM Catalyst Insights Council survey—acknowledge that burnout is a significant problem in the industry. It can hinder performance, and many doctors say the hospitals or practices they work for don’t do enough to reduce on-the-job stress.

At the panel, participants examined strategies that had worked to reduce burnout among critical care clinicians. For example, an “evidence-based leadership” strategy may ease the burden on nurses, according to the article. Ensuring the ICU is appropriately staffed, offering “true” collaboration and recognizing employees that go above and beyond can improve the work experience and reduce burnout, too, according to the article.

Other possible strategies include focusing on physician wellness, through meditation or yoga, for instance, and encouraging doctors to pursue outside interests to reduce stress. Electronic health records may be a notable cause of physician burnout, so doctors should be able to focus more on patient care and less on administrative tasks that EHRs require.