MSK Experts Shine a Light on Physician Burnout Rate and Risk Factors Among Anesthesiologists Across the U.S.

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Anoushka Afonso, MD

Anoushka Afonso, MD

MSK anesthesiologist Anoushka Afonso, MD, and Joshua Cadwell, GME medical student summer fellowship program alumni, partnered with colleagues from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, to conduct the first large-scale study focused specifically on burnout among practicing anesthesiologists in the United States in order to improve understanding of burnout in this population. The paper, “Burnout Rate and Risk Factors among Anesthesiologists in the United States,” which Dr. Afonso was a first author on, appeared on the cover of the May 2021 issue of Anesthesiology. Dr. Afonso serves as MSK’s Director of Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) and Faculty Director of the MSK Pipeline Program.

Burnout is more common in physicians than in the general population and can be linked to decreased quality of care, professionalism, patient safety, and physician quality of life. Burnout syndrome is a condition characterized by the dimensions of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low sense of personal accomplishment.

During March 2020 the researchers surveyed 3,898 members of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and found that the prevalence of burnout is high, with workplace factors weighing heavily. Survey results showed that the rate of high risk of burnout among anesthesiologists in the United States was 59.2 percent (2,307 of 3,898), and the rate of burnout syndrome was 13.8 percent (539 of 3,898).

These results showed that workplace factors, rather than personal factors, are the primary factors associated with being at high risk for burnout among practicing anesthesiologists. In particular, lack of workplace support, working greater than or equal to 40 hours per week, staffing shortages, and lack of a workplace confidant were all associated with burnout, which is consistent with recent data.

This data suggests that feelings of support (in mentorship, at work, and at home) are the most critical factors in anesthesiologist well-being. “Put simply, leadership drives culture, culture drives burnout, and burnout affects patient care,” explained Dr. Afonso and team. “Solutions focused on leadership skills, self-care, balance between demands and resources, and alignment in the working environment are likely to have downstream effects.”