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Burnout and depression, already prevalent among physicians, can affect ophthalmology residents, study finds

Research shows a consistent relationship between higher levels of physician burnout and lower levels of patient safety and quality of care.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Physician burnout has become an increasingly widespread problem in healthcare, but a new study from researchers at Brown University found the problem is extending to ophthalmology residents.

Across the country these ophthalmology residents face a substantial burden of burnout and depression, which may affect not only the residents themselves but also the quality of care they deliver to patients.

Earlier this year, a  Medscape National Report on Physician Burnout and Depression found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. physicians report feeling burned-out, depressed or both, with one in three admitting that their feelings of depression have an impact on how they relate to patients and colleagues.

Physician burnout can hurt the bottom line. Research has shown, for instance, a consistent relationship between higher levels of physician burnout and lower levels of patient safety and quality of care.

The new study, which involved a survey of ophthalmology residents completing their graduate medical training in healthcare settings across the country, suggests there are ample opportunities for the specialty's residency programs to improve and promote wellness initiatives -- from nutritional seminars to exercise classes to one-on-one counseling -- and make them more accessible.

A majority of the survey's respondents -- 68 percent -- reported problems with depression, burnout or suicide in their residency programs within the past year. The results indicate that hospitals can do a lot more to support residents on a systemic level, not just by offering a variety of wellness programs but also by ensuring residents have enough free time to take advantage of them.

When asked what most hindered their participation in wellness programs, 25 percent of the 241 respondents cited a lack of time, while 16 percent cited the duration or scheduling of their shifts. Other major barriers reported were academic stressors, paperwork and administrative requirements, and understaffing at clinical sites.

The authors noted that big changes to resident wellness programs may be ahead. Last summer, while the resident survey was still being created, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education released a revised set of requirements mandating that ophthalmology residency programs provide activities that promote resident well-being, encourage them to pay attention to work intensity, and permit them to attend personal health appointments.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com