Assessment of Physician Sleep and Wellness, Burnout, and Clinically Significant Medical Errors

JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Dec 1;3(12):e2028111. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.28111.


Importance: Sleep-related impairment in physicians is an occupational hazard associated with long and sometimes unpredictable work hours and may contribute to burnout and self-reported clinically significant medical error.

Objective: To assess the associations between sleep-related impairment and occupational wellness indicators in physicians practicing at academic-affiliated medical centers and the association of sleep-related impairment with self-reported clinically significant medical errors, before and after adjusting for burnout.

Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study used physician wellness survey data collected from 11 academic-affiliated medical centers between November 2016 and October 2018. Analysis was completed in January 2020. A total of 19 384 attending physicians and 7257 house staff physicians at participating institutions were invited to complete a wellness survey. The sample of responders was used for this study.

Exposures: Sleep-related impairment.

Main outcomes and measures: Association between sleep-related impairment and occupational wellness indicators (ie, work exhaustion, interpersonal disengagement, overall burnout, and professional fulfillment) was hypothesized before data collection. Assessment of the associations of sleep-related impairment and burnout with self-reported clinically significant medical errors (ie, error within the last year resulting in patient harm) was planned after data collection.

Results: Of all physicians invited to participate in the survey, 7700 of 19 384 attending physicians (40%) and 3695 of 7257 house staff physicians (51%) completed sleep-related impairment items, including 5279 women (46%), 5187 men (46%), and 929 (8%) who self-identified as other gender or elected not to answer. Because of institutional variation in survey domain inclusion, self-reported medical error responses from 7538 physicians were available for analyses. Spearman correlations of sleep-related impairment with interpersonal disengagement (r = 0.51; P < .001), work exhaustion (r = 0.58; P < .001), and overall burnout (r = 0.59; P < .001) were large. Sleep-related impairment correlation with professional fulfillment (r = -0.40; P < .001) was moderate. In a multivariate model adjusted for gender, training status, medical specialty, and burnout level, compared with low sleep-related impairment levels, moderate, high, and very high levels were associated with increased odds of self-reported clinically significant medical error, by 53% (odds ratio, 1.53; 95% CI, 1.12-2.09), 96% (odds ratio, 1.96; 95% CI, 1.46-2.63), and 97% (odds ratio, 1.97; 95% CI, 1.45-2.69), respectively.

Conclusions and relevance: In this study, sleep-related impairment was associated with increased burnout, decreased professional fulfillment, and increased self-reported clinically significant medical error. Interventions to mitigate sleep-related impairment in physicians are warranted.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors / psychology*
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Report
  • Sleep Deprivation / epidemiology
  • Sleep Deprivation / psychology*