If you are any of these high-risk categories, take burnout risk seriously.
In When Burnout Leads to Risky Alcohol Use of SI, I reviewed findings of a survey reported by Jackson et al. The survey also investigated factors that influence burnout including younger age, higher debt, and single status.
Jackson Eric R, Shanafelt Tait D, Hasan Omar, Satele Daniel V, Dyrbye Liselotte N. Burnout and Alcohol Abuse/Dependence Among U.S. Medical Students. Acad Med. March 1, 2016. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000001138.
- Younger age translates to having less context to make sense of the challenges of medical school and fewer coping strategies.
- It is pretty easy to imagine the impact of debt on stress and burnout.
- Being unmarried also correlates with burnout. Marriage often offers consistent support and would logically provide assistance with stress management (and the occasional warm meal). For single folks, the value of marriage may be approximated by expanding your social network to include individuals who look out for your health and best interest.
If you fit any of these high-risk categories, it behooves you to pay attention to the risk of burnout.
That study found high rates of alcohol use disorders and a strong correlation between burnout and alcohol use disorders in medical students. The Burnout -> Med Student Risky Alcohol Use & SI blog also described a correlation of burnout with suicidal ideation.
Keep in mind that limitations in the prior summary of the article persist due to its cross-sectional rather than longitudinal strategy. It is impossible to determine causality or the direction of causality if it exists. Indeed, correlation is not causation, but all correlation should also be run by an evaluation by common sense. It seems reasonable that being a younger and in higher debt would place someone more at risk. And marriage should provide consistent support and someone with whom to talk openly.
There is also a need to look at more longer-term burnout issues related to career choice. Doubting such a significant decision as going into medicine and the challenge of defining an entirely different path would be daunting. Since burnout scales typically only assesses Personal Accomplishment, a measure of “satisfaction with medicine” may actually be a more useful measure. Example questions include:
- I think of giving up medicine for another career
- I doubt the satisfaction I will get from being a doctor
- I regret my decision to have become a doctor
In our self-assessment survey (in development), we have included career regret among other markers. We need additional research to clarify the impact of career regret on burnout.
To address the “correlation is not causation” weakness, we seek to engage medical schools to complete similar studies at the onset and at the completion of subsequent years of medical training to guide the development of the Lift experience developed as a part of our Medical Student Burnout Project.
The collective data should provide insight into the order in which problems occur. In other words, is excessive alcohol use initially low and subsequently increased in medical school? Similarly, are symptoms of burnout initially low and subsequently increase? With multiple assessments over time, we should be able to gain insight into the development of burnout symptoms and increased alcohol use.