June 1, 2014
by Dr. Bruce Pynn
Despite the virtues of being a health care professional, there is no doubt that we are faced with higher levels of stress than the average worker. The impact of job-related stress has detrimental effects on not only the professional and their relationship with their patients, but also serious effects on the personal family life and overall health and well-being of the professional.
More specifically, a career in surgery brings with it significant challenges that can lead to substantial personal distress for the individual surgeon and their family. Gaining more attention is the concept of “burnout” which is a syndrome defined by the work-related triad of high emotional exhaustion, high depersonalization and a low sense of personal accomplishment.
Recently, I came across a scholarly article in the doctors lounge on ‘burnout in orthopedic surgeons”1 and couldn’t help but wonder about our field of expertise. A quick search on Pubmed on “burnout dentists” and “burnout surgeons” yielded 133 and 112 articles, respectively, dating back more than 30 years. Only five articles were found on “burnout oral surgeons”.
Little has been written on the specific impact this stress has on the oral and maxillofacial surgeon, although anecdotally, dentists have been singled out as the health care professional more likely to be subjected to severe stress, burnout, failed marriages, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.2 Studies suggest that difficulty balancing personal and professional life, administrative tasks, lack of autonomy, and patient volume are the greatest sources of a surgeon’s stress. There is also insufficient information known about the experiences of the significant others of these surgeons and the levels of burnout and psychological distress they may also be experiencing.
Our professional association has been making strides in helping provide support to our profession by developing and implementing a wellness program available to all RCDSO members. This program is one of a few of its kind providing confidential support to its members. We must acknowledge the work of our association to identify the need and provide support to prevent burnout in its members, but further research needs to be done in our specialty to gain further knowledge and understanding of the specific issues related to the oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
Life is a balancing act between work, family and leisure. The tightrope we walk every day is to create this balance and function successfully in all aspects of our life. Nothing is more enjoyable then to leave work completely behind at the end of the day and spend time relaxing with my family and my dog, or out at our cabin, with a cold beverage, looking over the lake and thinking that life is good. Now if only life could be like that every day, then I would have learned to successfully find my own balance!
1. Arora M, Diwan AD, Harris IA. Burnout in orthopaedic surgeons: a review. ANZ J Surg 2013: 83:512-515.
2. LaPorta LD. Occupational stress in oral and maxillofacial surgeons: tendencies, traits, and triggers. Oral and Maxillofacial Surg Clin N Am. 2010; 22: 495-502
Dr. Bruce Pynn is Oral Health’s editorial board member for oral and maxillofacial surgery. He maintains a private practice in Thunder Bay, ON. He is an Associate Professor, North Ontario School of Medicine, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON.