Burnout in chairs of obstetrics and gynecology: Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

Presidential address


      Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of burnout in chairs of academic departments of obstetrics and gynecology, identify important stressors, and develop strategies to treat and prevent burnout. Study design: We performed a cross-sectional study of 131 chairs in the United States and Puerto Rico. We used a 6-part questionnaire focusing on demographics, potential stressors, satisfaction with personal and professional life, self-efficacy, burnout as measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS), and support from the spouse/partner and family. Statistical analyses were performed with the χ2 test for categorical variables and t test or analysis of variance for continuous variables. Results: Questionnaires were returned from 119 chairs, 110 men and 9 women, a response rate of 91%. Chairs had served an average of 7.2 years. They worked an average of 67.4 hours each week, spending 45% of their time in administrative duties, 31% in patient care, 15% in teaching, and 8% in research. Female chairs worked significantly more hours per week than male chairs, 76.9 versus 66.7 hours (P = .005). Chairs who had served >10 years worked significantly fewer hours each week than did those who had been chairs <5 years, 63.2 versus 69.2 hours (P = .04). The most significant stressors were hospital/departmental budget deficits, Medicare/Medicaid billing audits, loss of key faculty, union disputes, and faculty, resident, and staff dismissals. To deal with stress, chairs most often spent time with family and friends. Twenty-two percent of chairs were somewhat-very dissatisfied with their positions. The MBI-HSS revealed a high subscale score for emotional exhaustion, moderate-high for depersonalization, and high for personal accomplishment. High emotional exhaustion was observed in younger chairs, those who worked nearly 70 hours each week, and those with less spouse/partner support. Burnout was more common in new chairs. Conclusion: Burnout in chairs of obstetrics and gynecology is characterized by a high level of emotional exhaustion, moderate-high depersonalization, and high personal accomplishment. These findings should be used to develop programs to improve the psychologic well-being of our academic leaders. (Am J Obstet Gynecol 2002;186:601-12.)


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