Enhanced Stress Resilience Training in Surgeons: Iterative Adaptation and Biopsychosocial Effects in 2 Small Randomized Trials

Ann Surg. 2021 Mar 1;273(3):424-432. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000004145.


Objective: To determine the effects of ESRT (an iteratively adapted and tailored MBI) on perceived stress, executive cognitive function, psychosocial well-being (ie, burnout, mindfulness), and pro-inflammatory gene expression in surgical (ESRT-1) and mixed specialty (ESRT-2) PGY-1 volunteers.

Summary of background and data: Tailored MBIs have proven beneficial in multiple high-stress and high-performance populations. In surgeons, tailored MBIs have been shown to be feasible and potentially beneficial, but whether mindfulness-based cognitive training can improve perceived stress, executive function, well-being or physiological distress in surgical and nonsurgical trainees is unknown.

Methods: In 2 small single-institution randomized clinical trials, ESRT, a tailored mindfulness-based cognitive training program, was administered and iteratively adapted for first-year surgical (ESRT-1, 8 weekly, 2-hour classes, n = 44) and mixed specialty (ESRT-2, 6 weekly, 90-minute classes, n = 45) resident trainees. Primary and secondary outcomes were, respectively, perceived stress and executive function. Other prespecified outcomes were burnout (assessed via Maslach Burnout Inventory), mindfulness (assessed via Cognitive Affective Mindfulness Scale - Revised), and pro-inflammatory gene expression (assessed through the leukocyte transcriptome profile "conserved transcriptional response to adversity").

Results: Neither version of ESRT appeared to affect perceived stress. Higher executive function and mindfulness scores were seen in ESRT-1, and lower emotional exhaustion and depersonalization scores in ESRT-2, at pre-/postintervention and/or 50-week follow-up (ESRT-1) or at 32-week follow-up (ESRT-2), compared to controls. Pooled analysis of both trials found ESRT-treated participants had reduced pro-inflammatory RNA expression compared to controls.

Conclusions: This pilot work suggests ESRT can variably benefit executive function, burnout, and physiologic distress in PGY-1 trainees, with potential for tailoring to optimize effects.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03141190 NCT03518359.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / prevention & control*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate
  • Female
  • General Surgery / education
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Male
  • Occupational Stress / pathology*
  • Occupational Stress / prevention & control*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • Surgeons / psychology*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03141190
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03518359