Self-reported subjective workload of on-call interns

J Grad Med Educ. 2013 Sep;5(3):427-32. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-12-00241.1.


Background: Workload has traditionally been measured by using surrogates, such as number of patients admitted or census, but these may not fully represent the complex concept of workload.

Objective: We measured self-reported subjective workload of interns and explored the relationship between subjective workload and possible predictors of it.

Methods: Trained research assistants observed internal medicine interns on call on a general medicine service. Approximately once an hour, the research assistants recorded the self-reported subjective workload of the interns by using Borg's Self-Perceived Exertion Scale, a 6 to 20 scale, and also recorded their own perceptions of the intern's workload. Research assistants continuously recorded the tasks performed by the interns. Interns were surveyed before and after the observation to obtain demographic and census data.

Results: Our sample included 25 interns, with a mean age of 28.6 years (SD, 2.4 years). Mean self-reported subjective workload was 12.0 (SD, 2.4). Mean self-reported subjective workload was significantly correlated with intern age (r = 0.49, P < .05), but not with team or intern census, number of admissions, or number of patients cross-covered. Self-reported subjective workload in the period after sign-out was significantly higher than in the period before and during sign-out (P < .001).

Conclusions: Self-reported subjective workload was not associated with traditional measures of workload. However, receiving sign-out and assuming the care of cross-coverage patients may be related to higher subjective workload in interns. Given the patient safety implications of workload, it is important that the medical education community have tools to evaluate workload and identify contributors to it.