Surgeon burnout, impact on patient safety and professionalism: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Am J Surg. 2022 Jul;224(1 Pt A):228-238. doi: 10.1016/j.amjsurg.2021.12.027. Epub 2021 Dec 27.


Background: Previous systematic reviews have found high burnout in healthcare professionals is associated with poorer patient care. However, no review or meta-analysis has investigated this association in surgeons specifically. The present study addressed this gap, by examining the association between surgeon burnout and 1) patient safety and 2) surgical professionalism.

Methods: A systematic review was performed in accordance with PRISMA guidelines. We included original empirical studies that measured burnout and patient care or professionalism in surgeons. Six databases were searched (PsycINFO, Ovid MEDLINE(R), EMBASE, Cochrane Database, CINAHL, and Web of Science) from inception to February 2021. An adapted version of the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool was used to assess study quality. Meta-analysis and narrative synthesis were utilised to synthesise results.

Results: Fourteen studies were included in the narrative review (including 27,248 participants) and nine studies were included in the meta-analysis. Burnout was associated with a 2.5-fold increased risk of involvement in medical error (OR = 2.51, 95% Cl [1.68-3.72]). The professionalism outcome variables were too diverse for meta-analysis, however, the narrative synthesis indicated a link between high burnout and a higher risk of loss of temper and malpractice suits and lower empathy. No link was found between burnout and patient satisfaction.

Conclusion: There is a significant association between higher burnout in surgeons and poorer patient safety. The delivery of interventions to reduce surgeon burnout should be prioritised; such interventions should be evaluated for their potential to produce concomitant improvements in patient safety.

Keywords: Burnout; Medical errors; Patient safety; Surgeons.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional* / epidemiology
  • Burnout, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Patient Safety
  • Professionalism
  • Surgeons*