NEW YORK – Career burnout is common is common among physicians and surgeons, but vascular surgeons might be able to lower their risk simply by taking steps to improve their posture in the operating room, according to data presented at a symposium on vascular and endovascular issues on an evolution that is already underway.
“We looked at physical pain and we were able to demonstrate a correlation with burnout. More pain, more burnout,” said, division of vascular surgery, Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, Arizona.
Pain was a reasonable focus for efforts to identify causes of burnout because it is so common among vascular surgeons. In data recently published by Dr. Money and his coinvestigators, 78.3% reported moderate to severe physical pain at the end of a day of surgery ().
“Forty percent of vascular surgeons have chronic pain,” Dr. Money said at the symposium sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Physical pain is not the only cause of burnout, which affects 30% of vascular surgeons, according to data recently presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Vascular Surgery (.). In that survey, physical pain was joined by work hours, documentation tasks, on-call frequency, and conflicts between work and personal life as significant factors.
“The average vascular surgeon in North America works 63 hours per week,” noted Dr. Money, adding that his survey found nearly 90% of surgeons operate on 3 or more days of every week. This amount of time in the operating room is relevant because almost all surgeons report some degree of pain after a procedure. In the survey, the proportion was greater than 95%.
Yet, risk of pain is modifiable.
“Body position matters,” said Dr. Money, citing studies showing that open procedures are most closely associated with neck pain whereas endovascular procedures are more likely to produce back pain. Although there is a high risk of either type of pain with these procedures, the types of predominant pain are consistent with the demands on body positioning.
“The more you lean forward, the more stress is placed on your neck and back. When standing straight, your head weighs 10-12 pounds, but leaning forward, it can put 60 pounds of pressure on your neck,” he said.
The relative stress can be measured objectively. Dr. Money cited work with a device that measures the body force in inertial measurement units (IMU). According to Dr. Money, the neck is in a high stress position about 75% of the time spent performing typical vascular surgery.
“The trunk is placed in a high stress position approximately 40% of the time, while the other parts of the body that were measured were not generally that bad,” Dr. Money said.
To avoid postural pain, which is not often stressed in surgical training, Dr. Money had specific recommendations. Some are obvious, such as positioning the operating table to minimize the amount of time the head is inclined. He also recommended positioning display monitors no more than 10-20 degrees below and no higher than eye level.
“If you sit down to perform tasks during the procedure, use an adjustable chair so that you can optimize the height,” he said.
He identified loupes as a risk factor for bad posture, and he stressed the importance of wearing lead garments only when necessary and adjusted properly.
“Padded floor mats? They really help,” Dr. Money said. He also recommended appropriate footwear and support stocking.
“Microbreaks are being used in a lot of professions. This means stopping for a moment to stretch every 15-30 minutes,” Dr. Money said.
As a first step, Dr. Money recommended simply developing posture awareness. Many surgeons are simply ignoring the risk and failing to optimize the ways they can increase their comfort during surgery.
Even before entering the surgical suite, regular exercise, yoga, and stretching are all strategies that have the potential to make a difference, according to Dr. Money.
The immediate goal is to reduce the physical pain that is an important occupational hazard for vascular surgeons, but the ultimate goal is to improve job satisfaction, an important defense against professional burnout.