Study Examines Role of Schedules in Physician Burnout

April 10, 2007
A national survey of physicians has found that a lack of control of their work hours and schedules often leads to burnout, while many other difficult issues that physicians face do not seem to diminish their career satisfaction.

Viewed against the backdrop of recent studies suggesting that dissatisfaction and burnout are on the rise among physicians, the results of this study by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System are particularly timely, according to researchers.

“The strongest predictors of whether physicians will experience burnout and career dissatisfaction are how much control they have over their schedules and over the total number of hours worked in a week,” says Kristie Keeton, M.D., MPH, a fellow in maternal-fetal medicine at the UM Medical School Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

After randomly questioning male and female physicians of a variety of specialties, researchers found that female and male physicians are highly satisfied with their careers. Both women and men reported moderate levels of satisfaction with work-life balance, moderate levels of emotional resilience and high levels of personal accomplishment.

“The good news is that I think career satisfaction among physicians can be improved if we work toward ways that physicians can have more control over their schedules and their work hours,” adds Keeton, lead author of the study, which appears in the April issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

New Generation of Doctors Wants Controllable Lifestyle

Somewhat surprisingly to the researchers, the physicians’ work-life balance does not predict their satisfaction with their careers – physicians can struggle with work-life balance and still remain highly satisfied with their careers. On the other hand, personal accomplishment and emotional resilience both were connected strongly with the level of the physicians’ career satisfaction.

Control over a schedule and the number of hours of work each week was tied to how the physicians felt about their personal accomplishment, emotional resilience and other factors that affect burnout and career satisfaction.

The results of the study occur at a time, Keeton notes, when the current generation of medical students, residents and junior faculty is believed to value time off and a balanced life more than the Baby Boomer generation tended to.

Because of that, she says, this generation tends to be more interested in selecting specialties that allow for a controllable lifestyle.

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