Surgeons with no work-life balance abuse alcohol, cut hours

Physicians struggling with their personal lives may interfere with their professional lives and their employers. More than half (52.5 percent) of surgeons reported a work-home conflict in the past three weeks and were more likely to be burned out, be depressed or abuse alcohol, according to a study in this month's Archives of Surgery. Even more, those physicians who suffered from work-life challenges were more likely to cut their hours or leave their current practice setting.

In a study of more than 7,000 members of the American College of Surgeons surveyed, nearly 37 percent of surgeons who reported work-home conflicts experienced burnout, compared to only 17 percent of those who didn't. Half of them with struggling conflicts were depressed, compared to 28.1 percent of their counterparts.

Seventeen percent of surgeons with conflicts said they were dependent on or abused alcohol, compared to 14.4 percent who were conflict-free.

The study confirms the long history of surgeons' challenge to integrate their personal and professional lives, study authors noted.

With surgeons working an average of 60 hours per week, spending 16 hours in the operating room and on call two nights of the week, work-home conflicts are common, especially among women, younger surgeons, those with children and surgeons who do not work in private practice.

In addition to being more likely to screen positive for symptoms of depression, drinking more alcohol and being less satisfied with their relationship with their significant other, they were more likely to cut their work hours or move to another place of employment, researchers noted.

"In an era when the projected size of the surgical workforce is already inadequate, further reductions will exacerbate this problem," researchers wrote.

The study suggests that surgeons' home life can have a major effect on the organization.

"Practice turnover and the associated costs of recruitment/replacement (which can exceed half a million dollars for surgical subspecialists), as well as disruptions to patient care and professional and personal upheaval, may be at least partially owing to surgeons seeking employment opportunities elsewhere regarded as having potential for less [work-home conflict]."

The study authors recommended both organizational and individual responses to reduce those stresses. For example, researchers suggested greater autonomy in scheduling, more allowance for job sharing and on-site backup child care for non-school days.

For more information:
- check out the study

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