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Physician Burnout Isn’t New

Dr. Wes and Kevin, M.D. have both written reviews of the documentary film “The Vanishing Oath.” I started the process rolling of trying to get the film shown locally. No date yet, but looks like it will happen before the year is out. 

This is not a new phenomenon in medicine (or any profession). Dr. Robert Goldwyn wrote a nice essay on the some of the issues that can lead to burnout, though not once did he mention burnout specifically. The title says much:

“I Bargained on Working Hard as a Surgeon, Not Working Hard to Be Able to Work Hard as a Surgeon”

The preceding title is a quote from a letter written by a resident in the last year of his training (S. A. Teitlebaum, August 20, 1994). It reflects the gloom besetting the young in particular but certainly not them exclusively. We all are uneasy about our futures, professionally and economically. Bandied in the corridors at a national meeting was a dismal figure: 1:100,000, the presumed proper ratio, as determined by Health Maintenance Organizations, of plastic surgeons to population. That 1 million Americans need only 10 plastic surgeons seems wrong and idiotic to me, but it makes good economic sense to health providers and insurance companies. Their coffers swell as they collect the same or higher premiums while curtailing what they provide.

When I started in practice 31 years ago, Massachusetts had a population of about 4 million and had 14 board-certified plastic surgeons. Now, with a slightly increased population, there are 104 plastic surgeons. If we go by the 1:100,000 rule, we should expect only 60…

Lisa Chu, M.D., has an essay, Burnout is common to teaching violin and practicing medicine, in which she discusses the topic:

I’ve recently started reading blogs and articles about “physician burnout” and I can’t help but notice that there’s a lot of blame being placed on “the system.” Doesn’t this kind of storytelling just reinforce that physicians are victims? I’d like to see physicians adopt a way of thinking that will enable them to create the desired changes in their own lifestyles, levels of satisfaction, and ultimately patient care…

REFERENCE: “I Bargained on Working Hard as a Surgeon, Not Working Hard to Be Able to Work Hard as a Surgeon”; Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 96(1):177-178, July 1995;  Goldwyn, Robert M.

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*


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