Physician Burnout: Focus on Anesthesia Practitioners

The phenomenon of burnout is cited to affect over 50% of the medical workforce in the United States1. Burnout is known as a cluster of symptoms in which an individual experiences consistently low physical and emotional energy levels, deficits in initiative or productivity, and/or depressive or emotions of skepticism with respect to one’s occupation. It is a trend that is widely spread among physicians, as practitioners face increased workload, administrative responsibilities, financial stressors, and rapidly changing healthcare policies.

Furthermore, of the many healthcare practitioners affected by burnout, anesthesia providers — such as anesthesiologists and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists — are certainly vulnerable to the phenomenon2. Surgical specialties as a whole are more likely to encounter consistently high levels of stress in the workplace, and as the guide between analgesia, unconsciousness and recovery, anesthesia providers even more so carry that burden. Anesthesia practitioners necessitate an increased emphasis with regards to how specific factors impact the onset of burnout, as well as an exploration of how commitment to one’s trade can be managed with a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Research has identified multiple factors that are direct correlates of physician burnout. These are listed as: workload and job demands; control and flexibility; work-life balance; social support / community at work; alignment of individual and organizational values; production pressures; and finally, degree of meaning derived from work3. Most healthcare providers would agree that meaning is ascribed to their occupation. Indeed, physicians and nurses in the surgical setting are literally changing lives. Yet, the additional factors, such as workload demands, control and flexibility, and workplace community, vary widely between individuals and represent a source of stress on a daily, and thus cumulative, basis.

Anesthesia professionals may have more or less control over their schedules, depending on their site of occupation. In the broad sense, large hospitals or healthcare systems are managed similarly to a company. Anesthesiologists, CRNAs, and other anesthesia providers may submit requests for specific shifts, times of the day, and days of the week, but in the end such assignments are algorithmic and decided by administrators. During times of high patient census, this may result in an anesthesia professional slotted into more shifts than previously registered, and potentially longer shifts than desired in order to meet demand.

On the converse, a private practice or anesthesia practice group may result in greater independence with respect to scheduling and workplace demands. Physician-led practices necessarily understand the daily demands of medicine, and also may have capacity for a higher amount of feedback from practitioners. In this way, physician leadership in group practices comes with greater administrative responsibilities, which are themselves stress factors. To amend this issue, it is oft recommended that physicians seek the services of specialized administrative practice managers, if possible. Therefore, physicians in the group can provide overall practice leadership, while reducing the large administrative constraints that are necessary to manage an effective practice. Additional tools to minimize burnout are activities that maximize wellness, such as exercise, meditation or spiritual practice, and spending with loved ones.

Serving as a medical professional and healthcare provider is emotionally and physically exhausting in many respects. Yet, the chance to change and shape lives makes the long educational journey, and eventual career, worth it. Armed with the right tools, anesthesiologists, CRNAs, and other anesthesia practitioners can enhance their individual health and wellness to combat burnout, while also working in their careers to change patients’ lives.

1. Shanafelt, Tait D., et al. “Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance in Physicians and the General US Working Population Between 2011 and 2014.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, vol. 90, no. 12, 2015, pp. 1600–1613., doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.08.023.

2. Shanafelt, Tait. “Burnout in Anesthesiology.” Anesthesiology, vol. 114, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1–2., doi:10.1097/aln.0b013e318201cf92.

3. Sanfilippo, Filippo et al. “Incidence and Factors Associated with Burnout in Anesthesiology: A Systematic Review.” BioMed research international vol. 2017 (2017): 8648925. doi:10.1155/2017/8648925

Share this: