Evaluating and Exploring Variations in Surgical Resident Emotional Intelligence and Burnout

J Surg Educ. May-Jun 2019;76(3):628-636. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2018.11.004. Epub 2019 Jan 16.


Objective: Surgery resident burnout rates are on the rise, ranging from 50% to 69%. Burnout is associated with increased risk of error and poorer patient satisfaction. Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. We seek to evaluate the correlation between EI and burnout temporally as a potential target for education. This may allow us to utilize objective measures to reduce burnout among our residents.

Design: A prospective study of general surgery residents at a single institution was performed via self-reporting assessments on personal demographics, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), and the Scale of Emotional Functioning: Health Service Provider at 3 separate time-points.

Setting: A medium sized academic medical center in Tennessee approved to graduate 6 chief residents per year.

Participants: All general surgery residents PGY1 to PGY5 including preliminary residents were given the assessment tools and the option of participating. Research residents were excluded.

Results: A total of 86 assessments were completed, including 15 residents who completed all 3 assessments. Changes in the personal achievement (PA) portion of the MBI had the strongest correlation with temporal changes in EI with a Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.606 and 0.616 (p 0.017 and 0.015, respectively). Of the 3 subscales of the MBI, residents had moderate or severe emotional exhaustion for 62% of responses, 73% for depersonalization, and 37% for PA. All categories examined (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, PA, and EI) saw improvement in scores across 3 administrations.

Conclusions: Improvements in burnout and EI scores were seen across 3 administrations of surveys without any intervention. In the future, assessing PA may have the highest potential to evaluate burnout indirectly. Designing a curriculum for EI may assist with preventing burnout.

Keywords: Depersonalization; Emotional intelligence; Graduate medical education; Internship and residency; Professional burnout; Professionalism, Interpersonal and Communication Skills.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Depersonalization / psychology
  • Education, Medical, Graduate
  • Emotional Intelligence*
  • Female
  • General Surgery / education*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surgeons / psychology*
  • Tennessee