Burnout and Stress Among US Surgery Residents: Psychological Distress and Resilience

J Am Coll Surg. 2018 Jan;226(1):80-90. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2017.10.010. Epub 2017 Oct 26.


Background: Burnout among physicians affects mental health, performance, and patient outcomes. Surgery residency is a high-risk time for burnout. We examined burnout and the psychological characteristics that can contribute to burnout vulnerability and resilience in a group of surgical trainees.

Study design: An online survey was distributed in September 2016 to all ACGME-accredited general surgery programs. Burnout was assessed with an abbreviated Maslach Burnout Inventory. Stress, anxiety, depression, resilience, mindfulness, and alcohol use were assessed and analyzed for prevalence. Odds ratios (ORs) were used to determine the magnitude of presumed risk and resilience factors.

Results: Among 566 surgical residents who participated in the survey, prevalence of burnout was 69%, equally driven by emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. Perceived stress and distress symptoms (depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety) were notably high across training levels, but improved during lab years. Higher burnout was associated with high stress (OR 7.8; p < 0.0001), depression (OR 4.8; p < 0.0001), and suicidal ideation (OR 5.7; p < 0.0001). In contrast, dispositional mindfulness was associated with lower risk of burnout (OR 0.24; p < 0.0001), stress (OR 0.15; p < 0.0001), anxiety (OR 0.21; p < 0.0001), suicidal ideation (OR 0.25; p < 0.0001), and depression (OR 0.26; p = 0.0003).

Conclusions: High levels of burnout, severe stress, and distress symptoms are experienced throughout general surgery training, with some improvement during lab years. In this cross-sectional study, trainees with burnout and high stress were at increased risk for depression and suicidal ideation. Higher dispositional mindfulness was associated with lower risk of burnout, severe stress, and distress symptoms, supporting the potential of mindfulness training to promote resilience during surgery residency.

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Mindfulness
  • Occupational Stress / psychology
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires