Earlier this month, the Critical Care Societies Collaborative published a report simultaneously in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Chest, the American Journal of Critical Care, Critical Care Medicine on the issue of burnout syndrome (BOS) in the ICU. The report defines BOS as when is when excessive and prolonged stress causes a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Researchers found that 45% of critical care physicians and 25%-33% critical care nurses working in the U.S. are currently suffering from severe burnout.
“With more than 10,000 critical care physicians and 500,000 critical care nurses practicing in the United States, the effects of burnout syndrome in the ICU cannot be ignored,” says senior author Curt Sessler, MD. “We believe that protecting the mental and physical health of healthcare professionals who are at risk for burnout syndrome is vitally important for not only the professionals but for all stakeholders, including our patients.”
There are three main symptoms of BOS: exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. There’s also a host of nonspecific symptoms such as the inability to feel happiness or contentment, and experiencing feelings of frustration, anger, fear, or anxiety.
To treat and prevent BOS, the study authors recommend:
• Having patient advocacy groups educate patients and their families on the symptoms of BOS and how to have healthy interactions with providers.
• Fundraising to promote BOS research and raise awareness.
• Restricting the number of consecutive hours that providers can work and provide assistance for those who have BOS or are at risk for it.
• Use low turnover rates as a sign the environment is welcoming for providers in addition to lowering costs of training.
• Hospitals should benchmark BOS so that ICUs could track their own progress and compare themselves with other ICUs.
• Professional organizations can serve an important role in teaching providers the signs of BOS and how to ask for help.
• Medical schools can improve outreach to incoming students and postgraduate students as to the realities of their profession and include coping skills in training. Burnout, once thought to be a problem of advanced careers, is emerging rapidly in the early career stage, the authors note.
“This should be acceptable to talk about,” coauthor Marc Moss, MD, told Medscape News. “You have a cycle where you have your best employees thinking there’s something wrong with them because they’re having these symptoms, and they leave the job.”
The Critical Care Societies Collaborative, which wrote the report, includes the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the American College of Chest Physicians, the American Thoracic Society, and the Society of Critical Care Medicine.