Mental health of hospital consultants: the effects of stress and satisfaction at work

Lancet. 1996 Mar 16;347(9003):724-8. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(96)90077-x.


Background: Burnout and psychiatric morbidity among gastroenterologists, surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists in the UK have been estimated by means of a questionnaire-based survey. The relationship between consultants' mental health and their job stress and satisfaction, as well as their job and demographic characteristics, were also examined.

Methods: Psychiatric morbidity was estimated using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire. The three components of burnout-emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low personal accomplishment-were assessed using the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Job stress and satisfaction were measured using study-specific questions.

Findings: Of 1133 consultants, 882 (78%) returned questionnaires. The estimated prevalence of psychiatric morbidity was 27%, with no significant differences between the four specialist groups. Radiologists reported the highest level of burnout in terms of low personal accomplishment. Job satisfaction significantly protected consultants' mental health against job stress. Three sources of stress were associated with both burnout and psychiatric morbidity; feeling overloaded, and its effect on home life; feeling poorly managed and resourced; and dealing with patients' suffering. Burnout was also associated with low satisfaction in three domains: relationships with patients, relatives and staff; professional status/esteem; intellectual stimulation. In addition, being aged 55 years or less and being single were independent risk factors for burnout. Burnout was also more prevalent among consultants who felt insufficiently trained in communication and management skills.

Interpretation: Consultants' mental health is likely to be protected against the high demands of medical practice by maintaining or enhancing job satisfaction, and by providing training in communication and management skills.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / etiology*
  • Consultants / psychology*
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Gastroenterology
  • General Surgery
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom