Generations of Louisiana parents have wished for their children to grow up to be doctors. Medicine is still a highly prestigious profession, and for many, a very well-paid one. However, according to a recent report, increasing numbers of doctors are unhappy with their work lives. They report feeling stressed out and burned out. Researchers worry that this situation is leading to increased risks to patients.
In a high-profile report, the National Academy of Medicine found about half of U.S. physicians and nurses showed significant symptoms of burnout, such as emotional exhaustion, cynicism and a low sense of satisfaction in their work. Among medical students and residents the rate is even higher: ranging from 45-60%.
This burnout can be harmful to the mental health of medical professionals themselves. The suicide rate among doctors is currently twice the rate for the general populations. So far, the approach medical professional organizations use to confront the burnout problem is mostly oriented toward mental health, with a new attention on yoga, meditation and mindfulness training.
But medical professional burnout isn’t just dangerous to medical professionals. It can also be dangerous to the health of patients. Researchers linked the problem to increased risk and poorer care for patients, and this in turn leads to more people being injured through medical malpractice.
A patient who is injured through medical malpractice can hold medical professionals, and often their employers, accountable for their carelessness. This can be an important way to encourage the profession to do something about its own burnout problem. On a more immediate level, it can help the injured and their families to cope with the long aftermath of an injury.