Board scheme aims to help stressed young doctors avoid burnout

By Yvonne Tahana

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Burnout rates which affect more than a quarter of young surgeons are being addressed at Counties Manukau District Health Board with a programme to make doctors remain vigilant about their quality of life.

A study in the New Zealand Medical Journal last year noted 27 per cent of young surgeons here and in Australia reported burnout.

Risk factors included being female, working in small hospitals and putting in more than 60 hours a week.

Signs of burnout include emotional exhaustion, cynicism, perceived clinical ineffectiveness, a sense of depers-onalised relationships with co-workers and patients, insomnia and isolation.

For GPs there were reports that 10 per cent showed psychological symptoms of concern, with similar rates for physicians and surgeons. Forty-six per cent of GPs felt work affected their physical health, and 57 per cent indicated they often thought about leaving general practice.

One of the article's authors, Dr Sue Hawken, is part of Connect Communications which developed an intensive workshop for 30 junior doctors working for the Counties Manukau board to improve self-care behaviour.

It aims to cut out unhealthy behaviours which contribute to burnout, one of the worst being doctors not making their own health a priority.

Many did not have their own GP and treated themselves.

"Burnout's not a small problem. We certainly know [junior doctors'] wellbeing often deteriorates in their first year.

"Historically medicine's been a 'harden up, get on, cope' kind of job ... We're trying to change that culture because it's always been that doctors don't want to be thought of as having depression or anxiety. But they're just the same as anyone else in the community and we have a high-stress job."

Dr Hawken said an important tool was a technique known as mind-fulness. Similar to meditation, it puts doctors into a deep state of relaxation. Making doctors recognise their early signs of stress, looking out for colleagues and getting them to talk about their experiences were also parts of the programme.

Dr Mataroria Lyndon, 26, a first-year last year at Middlemore Hospital who took the workshops, was evaluating their effect and examining how he dealt with the hours and stress.

"The workload is enormous ... With the demands of the job, sometimes your own welfare comes second," he said.

- NZ Herald

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