Conference Coverage

Psychiatrists urged to take lead in recognizing physician burnout



NEW YORK – The proportion of physicians who commit suicide each year is greater than the proportion of Americans who die of an opioid overdose, according to a series of sobering statistics on physician burnout presented at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting.

“There are about 400 physician suicides very year, which is proportional rate that is about twice the suicide rate in the general population,” reported Darrell G. Kirch, MD, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington.

Overworked doctor humonia/Thinkstock
Among studies of physician burnout, one found that suicide ideation was 6.4% (Mayo Clinic Proc. 2015;90:1600-13). “If you read a headline that 6.4% of airline pilots are considering suicide, we would ground the fleet,” Dr. Kirch said.

Burnout is variably defined, but characterizations typically include emotional exhaustion, a high sense of depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. In the 2015 study, the overall rate of burnout when assessed via the Maslach Burnout Inventory was 54.4%.

At 40%, the rate of burnout found among psychiatrists is lower than the mean and places them toward the bottom of the list in the rank order among specialists. Yet, 40% is still a large proportion. Moreover, Dr. Kirch believes that psychiatrists have an important role to play in recognizing and addressing this condition in others.

What I am doing today is hoping that I can recruit you to be a positive voice in this campaign in the organization you work in,” Dr. Kirch said. The campaign to which he referred was a call to action launched last year by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Led by NAM, it is called the Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience.

In the 18 months since it was launched, “more than 150 organizations, including the APA, have made commitment statements and are supporting the work of the collaborative around improving clinician well-being,” Dr. Kirch reported.

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