One in four young doctors in Portugal “already suffering burnout”

55% at risk of developing burnout

One in four young doctors in Portugal has serious symptoms of burnout, while 55.3% are at risk of developing the syndrome, reveals a study comissioned by the Order of Physicians.

The same study, aimed specifically at medical interns, states that 35.5% have needed psychological or psychiatric support during their internship.

Almost 65% of Portugal’s medical interns are at a severe level of emotional exhaustion, 45.8% are at a high level of depersonalisation/dehumanisation and 48.1% have a high level of diminished professional fulfilment, according to the study, carried out by the National Council of Internal Doctors (CNMI) and published today.

The aim of the study, which took place between August and September this, and had 1,737 responses (response rate of 16.9%), was to assess burnout in interns and its association with socio-professional variables.

Compared to the last study, carried out in 2016, interns have a prevalence of severe burnout (24.7%) more than three times higher than other doctors (7%), and also have higher levels compared to the average of studies carried out in other countries (22.9%).

Doctors who have been interns for longer, who consider the relationship between work and personal life to be more unbalanced, who have less autonomy in their work and who work more overtime have higher levels of burnout,” the study continues.

The percentage of interns who are totally involved in their work is only 5.3%, which is around four times lower than in other countries.

Only 16.5% consider the relationship between personal and professional life to be balanced.

There is a higher percentage of doctors with burnout symptoms in the North (28.6%), followed by Lisbon/ Vale do Tejo (23.7%) and the central region (22.1%).

The highest levels are found in Anaesthesiology(32.4%), followed by General Surgery (29.7%), Internal Medicine (28.9%), Intensive Care Medicine (26.2%) and Gynaecology/Obstetrics (22.2%).

According to the study, 84.8% of those surveyed work overtime, with an average working week of 52.8 hours, equivalent to around 2.5 months of overtime per year.

More than half (55.1%) work monthly shifts lasting more than 12 hours, 62.1% do night work and 55.9% had two or fewer weekends off a month.

The high workload associated with autonomous work and study and pursuing curricular goals was the main issue listed in the questionnaire’s question about working conditions.

Speaking to the Lusa news agency, the president of the CNMI, José Durão, considered the results of this first national study to be “very worrying”.

“We were aware that there were many interns whose mental health is under threat, with many of them already having to go to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or even take medication, and that they reported long working hours and little sleep,” he said.

But “we didn’t expect to find that almost 25% (…) were in severe burnout“.

Asked if this situation is due to work in emergency services, José Durão said that it would be “one of the explanations”, but considered that the problem “is multifactorial”.

“We’re talking about various situations, in various specialities, in various regions, and so it’s difficult to pinpoint just one reason” (…) but “it’s no coincidence that the highest levels of burnout are detected in hospital specialities, particularly medical and surgical, which also have a heavier emergency workload.”

José Durão added that some interns work “two or three 24-hour shifts in a single week, which is not only illegal, nor provided for in training programmes, but obviously anyone with common sense realises that it cannot be good for anyone’s mental health”.

The study is published as the work-to-rule imposed by doctors syndicates over extra overtime is currently hampering services within the State health system. Over 33 emergency departments will be ‘limited this week’, says Lusa – meaning they will not be fully-functioning. January sees the clock ‘reset’ on obligatory overtime, which means doctors (whether they like it or not) will be required to work extraordinary overtime until they reach the 150-hours limit, at which point, if their dispute with the government continues, they may return to the work to rule.

Source material: Lusa