Burnout among doctors has been a well-researched subject in the West, but there are few studies on the topic in India. “In a study conducted in 2012 among 7,288 physicians, 45.8% showed at least one symptom of burnout. There was an approximately 10% higher level of burnout and 17% higher level of dissatisfaction as compared to the general population in this particular study ,” said Dr Modi.
Burnout among doctors is an important social issue because it directly affects patients and healthcare. As Dr Sanjay Nagral, a liver surgeon who is the editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, said, “Burnout is possibly as high among doctors as it is among other professionals. But it is worrying because doctors suffering from burnout may lack empathy towards their patients or have impaired judgement.”
The study’s author Dr Gharpure said, “Some of my colleagues used to work for 34 hours at a stretch. It is not surprising that we hear instances of doctors snapping at patients because they are stretched.”
The new study showed that burnout was worse among female and senior doctors. ” A study of French intensivists reported a higher level of burnout among females as compared to their male counterparts. We found this among local female doctors as well,” said Dr Modi, adding this could be because of “higher expectations” from them at both home and work.
Dr Deepak Langade, who heads the pharmacology department at Bharati Vidyapeeth in Navi Mumbai and who worked as a guide for the doctors who conducted the study , said the study noted an increase in the incidence of burnout syndrome among more senior doctors. “The increase in age would mean more time spent working in the profession, compounding the effect of disturbed work-life balance, resulting in higher burnout levels,” he wrote in the paper.
Moreover, the burnout rate is higher among postgraduate doctors than MBBS doctors.”This shows burnout increases with an increase in specialty training and practice. This is expec ted as the number of specialists is limited, and hence they are subjected to more working hours and the nature of the jobs is demanding,” the doctors added.
The study identified the poor doctor-patient ratio, limited specialty training programmes and higher work pressure on a few specialists as the reasons for burnout. “The intense workload with limited doctors results in long hours. This leaves them with minimal time for family life and recreation,” said Dr Modi.