62% of emergency medicine workers have one symptom of burnout syndrome

62% of emergency medicine workers have one symptom of burnout syndrome
© iStock/Charday Penn

A new survey has revealed concerning statistics about the burden of burnout syndrome in emergency medicine workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on mental health, especially among healthcare workers. The increased workload and stress due to the pandemic have been particularly evident in emergency medicine workers.

To understand the current state of burnout in emergency medicine workers, a survey carried out by the European Society for Emergency Medicine (EUSEM) collected results from emergency medicine workers in 89 countries.

The results were published in the European Journal of Emergency Medicine.

What is burnout syndrome?

Until 2019, ‘burnout’ was not a recognised condition. However, following a review, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognised ‘burnout’ as an ‘occupational phenomenon’.

Common signs of burnout include:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time,
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated,
  • Feeling detached/alone in the world,
  • Having a negative outlook,
  • Self-doubt,
  • Feeling overwhelmed.

Surveying emergency workers from around the world

A new survey by the European Society for Emergency Medicine (EUSEM) among emergency medicine workers in 89 countries revealed that 62% of the responders had at least one symptom of burnout syndrome, and 31.2% had two.

The paper shows chronic problems faced by emergency medicine specialists including: understaffing, limited resources, overcrowding, and lack of recognition because of the pandemic.

“The level of burnout found means that these healthcare workers deserve professional clinical evaluation and support. Worryingly, less than half of responders to the survey (41.4%) reported having access to such psychological support, either face to face or at a distance,” said EUSEM President Dr Abdo Khoury, from the Department of Emergency Medicine and Critical Care, Besançon University Hospital, Besançon, France.

The study also found a number of emergency medicine workers were considering a career change. This finding was most evident in younger professionals compared to those who were older and more experienced.

“An EM worker who is overworked under stress will have a negative effect on patients too,” said Dr Khoury. “Burnout can show itself in a distant or indifferent attitude to work, as well as reducing productivity and efficiency. It can lead to lower-quality care and an increase in medical errors.”

Emergency medicine workers were burdened further in the pandemic with the need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and the ongoing fear of being infected with COVID-19.

“Healthcare authorities quite rightly put patient satisfaction and well-being at the top of their priority list. Yet the overwhelming evidence is that medical professionals have unmet needs too and that these are growing exponentially. An important social determinant of health is the exposure – or the lack of it – too stressful living conditions. It would be difficult to find a group of people who were more subjected to stress during the pandemic than EM specialists,” said the paper’s authors.

“EM specialists have shouldered a particularly heavy burden and are suffering as a result. Urgent measures to reduce burnout and therefore encourage those thinking of leaving the profession to reconsider are needed. Many interventions have been shown to be effective in decreasing burnout, and we were disappointed to see how few appear to be being implemented at present. The pandemic has shown how essential they are,” they concluded.



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