Physician stress: is it inevitable?

Mo Med. 1989 Jan;86(1):21-5.


Early attempts to understand the causes of physician stress focused almost exclusively upon the role of external stressors and demands. Recent psychosocial and behavioral research, however, suggests that individual attitudes, beliefs, personality factors, and learned coping strategies probably play a more important role. In addition, such cognitive and behavioral tendencies are within the control of each individual, and clinical experience has shown that these factors can indeed be modified. Freudenberger noted that most health professionals who are experiencing high levels of stress fail to identify the role that they themselves play in generating such symptoms. Instead, they tend to blame others as the cause of their problems and tend to react cynically toward suggestions that they could benefit from help. A large-scale study of family physicians in North Carolina, conducted by May, Revicki, and Jones in 1983, confirmed the fact that most physicians who reported a high level of professional stress also tended to score high on measures of external locus of control--i.e. the perception that external or environmental factors are mainly responsible for one's problems or successes. My own experience in treating physicians and other people with stress tends to confirm these findings. More importantly, I have found that once individuals are helped to identify the role that their own cognitive and behavioral tendencies play in the origin of their stress, they can usually bring about impressive reductions in stress and tension without significant changes in environmental factors or demands. While many people advocate stress-releasing and other relaxation skills for physicians, I have found that such approaches are often counterproductive.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional*
  • Economics, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological*