Future eye doctors say they’re already burned out

(Credit: Miguel/Vaca)

Many ophthalmology residents report feeling burned out and depressed, which can hurt them and the quality of care they give to patients.

The new study, which included a survey of ophthalmology residents completing their graduate medical training in health care settings across the US, suggests there are ample opportunities for residency programs to improve—and not only to promote wellness initiatives, such as nutritional seminars, exercise classes, and one-on-one counseling—but also to ensure residents have enough free time to take advantage of them.

As reported in JAMA Ophthalmology, a majority of respondents—68 percent—reported problems with depression, burnout, or suicide within the past year.

“We need to make sure we do everything we can to help residents achieve a healthy work-life balance. Residents who are burned out are not going to be as effective.”

“Physicians in training are the future of our health care system, and there has been a recent push to boost support of them through wellness initiatives,” says lead author Elaine Tran, a fourth-year undergraduate at Brown University.

“Yet the resident wellness program landscape in ophthalmology has not been well documented in research literature.”

Tran and Paul Greenberg, professor of ophthalmology, first surveyed ophthalmology resident program directors about wellness initiatives in 2016. A quarter of respondents to that initial survey reported issues with resident burnout, depression, or suicide, and only half said their departments had resident wellness programs.

“After hearing from program directors, we recognized that a comprehensive analysis of residency-based wellness initiatives would be incomplete without also soliciting the resident perspective,” Tran says.

So the team devised another survey that went to more than 1,000 ophthalmology residents across the country. 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.

Though training to become an ophthalmologist is necessarily challenging, it is also in the best interest of residency programs to not only provide and promote wellness programs but also to help residents retain time in their schedules for wellness, Greenberg says.

“We need to make sure we do everything we can to help residents achieve a healthy work-life balance. Residents who are burned out are not going to be as effective. We’re not only looking to improve the quality of resident education, but also the quality of care we provide to our patients.”

Big changes to resident wellness programs may be ahead, researchers say. Last summer, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) released a revised set of requirements mandating that ophthalmology residency programs provide activities that promote resident well-being, encourage residents to pay attention to work intensity, and permit residents to attend personal health appointments.

Changing schedules take a toll on medical interns

“We believe that if there is greater partnership between local graduate medical education leaders and national organizations such as ACGME in promoting wellness, a lot can be done to better support residents on a systemic level,” Tran says.

Tran, who is halfway through Brown’s eight-year Program in Liberal Medical Education, hopes to survey ophthalmology residents and program directors again in a few years to find out whether the revised ACGME requirements helped lessen burnout and depression.

Lots of teachers are super stressed out

“Resident wellness is at the front and center of the concerns all medical educators have, and ophthalmologists are no different,” Greenberg says. “We need more information about wellness programming from all the stakeholders, including program directors and residents, and we hope our study can help contribute to this goal.”

Other coauthors are from Brown, Penn State College of Medicine, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Source: Brown University