Who knew? Medical residents with kids experience less burnout

A pediatrician and his patient
An increasing number of medical residents are becoming parents while completing their medical training. (Getty/shironosov)

It goes against the grain, but a new study suggests that parenthood may help protect medical residents against burnout.

While some might associate having children with additional stress, becoming a parent appears to protect medical residents from burnout, a study presented at the American Psychiatric Association 2017 Annual Meeting found, according to Medscape Medical News (reg. req.).

Natalie Sous, M.D., who led a literature review, said having children may make doctors more empathetic. But it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation.

"It's been shown that parents have higher empathy scores, although we don't know whether that's because empathetic people are more likely to become parents or whether parenting makes you more empathetic,” she told Medscape.

An increasing number of medical residents are becoming parents while completing their medical training, including Sous. Burnout rates are high among residents and Sous wanted to examine the impact of starting a family. While residents with children may have more conflict a home, they are less cynical and more empathetic, with lower rates of depression and greater life satisfaction, she found.

Some 54% of doctors are estimated to experience burnout, a problem many healthcare organizations are trying to address.

Not ready to start a family? Then get a therapist, wrote Elisabeth Poorman, M.D., in a commentary on CommonHealth. Poorman, a recent graduate of Cambridge Health Alliance who is a primary care physician in Massachusetts. She offered the advice alongside congratulations for the graduating medical school classes of 2017.

While there are untold joys in medicine, they come at a cost. Many doctors will experience depression, substance abuse or other mental illnesses in medical school and residency, she warned, as the healthcare system demands too much of them.

That may be more true now than ever. In a reversal of policy, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education announced in March that it will allow first-year doctors to work 24-hour shifts in hospitals starting July 1. Despite opposition from some medical residents, the council lifted a requirement that limited first-year physicians to 16 consecutive hours of patient care.