Exploring Emotional Exhaustion - Happy Healthy Rested
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Exploring Emotional Exhaustion

Exploring Emotional Exhaustion

In August 2020,  Drs. Kara Zivin, Kirk Brower, and Srijan Sen along with Rebecca Brownlee and Dr. Katherine Gold from Michigan Medicine’s Departments of Family Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology published the study “Relationship between faculty characteristics and emotional exhaustion in a large academic medical center” in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The authors examined “emotional exhaustion” (EE) among faculty members with and without clinical effort at Michigan Medicine using a survey distributed in November 2017.  “Emotional exhaustion” represents one component of burnout, based on the question “Overall, based on your definition of burnout how would you rate your level of burnout?” This five category measure uses higher scores to indicate more burn out.  Among 1,401 faculty members who responded to this survey, 42% endorsed EE.  The factors associated with more EE included: more clinical effort, more workplace stress, less “resilience” (based on a resilience survey), less personal time, and more depressive symptoms.

I asked lead author Dr. Zivin if she had any recommendations on next steps to address EE in our psychiatry faculty and staff.   Dr. Zivin highlighted the difficulty of knowing exactly what to recommend to those experiencing EE.   She pointed out that “potential burnout has become even more relevant in the context of COVID given that medical faculty now work from home, put in longer work hours, serve multiple roles as parents doubling as teachers, and face uncertainty.”

Other indicators suggest that burnout has increased during COVID.  Dr. Brower recently conducted a study for the Michigan Medicine Wellness Office called the Office Michigan Medicine/AMA Coping with COVID-19 Survey between 5/26-7/1/20. The study explored responses from 2,781 Michigan Medicine faculty, staff, and trainees.  Results from 102 people in the Michigan Medicine Department of Psychiatry found that 53% felt burned out, 36% felt anxious or depressed, and 42% felt overloaded with work.

Managing and mitigating stressors and enhancing wellbeing for both providers and patients will require that we think of ways to increase connectedness, safety, and support to improve quality of life in an uncertain time.