Burnout, psychological distress, and overwork: the case of Quebec's ophthalmologists

Can J Ophthalmol. 2008 Oct;43(5):535-46. doi: 10.3129/i08-132.


Background: Studies have shown that physicians are subject to high stress levels that can lead to mental health problems. Ophthalmologists are facing particularly high pressures because of shortages in their number and lack of resources. This study describes the state of mental health of Quebec's ophthalmologists and identifies certain elements of their work environment and personal lives that may contribute to problems.

Methods: This cross-sectional study uses self-report questionnaires, including validated instruments, as well as instruments created for the study. A total of 133 out of 266 Quebec's ophthalmologists participated in the study.

Results: More than 35% of ophthalmologists reported high levels of burnout and psychological distress. The 5 main occupational stressors were growth in demand for services (49.2%), shortage of ophthalmologists (48.1%), amount of work to be done (45.4%), budgetary pressures (44.6%), and repeated training of new work teams (41.9%). Self-acceleration is the defensive strategy used most often to deal with work overload. Nearly half (47.4%) reported having problems reconciling work and personal life. The mean scores indicate that ophthalmologists received little recognition from administration.

Interpretation: Work overload and systemic organizational deficiencies are burdening ophthalmologists in Quebec. They constantly work harder to preserve their professional ideals, but they receive little recognition from the administration. The levels of distress observed in this context point to the need for the authorities to take action to improve practice conditions. The situation is urgent because population aging has already begun to cause a sharp increase in demand, and younger physicians appear to be suffering most from work overload and burnout.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Health*
  • Ophthalmology*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Quebec / epidemiology
  • State Medicine / organization & administration
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workforce
  • Workload / psychology*
  • Workload / statistics & numerical data