Burnout, viewed as the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength as a result of prolonged stress or frustration, was added to the mental health lexicon in the 1970s, and has been detected in a wide variety of health care providers. A study of 600 American workers indicated that burnout resulted in lowered production, and increases in absenteeism, health care costs, and personnel turnover. Many employees are vulnerable, particularly as the American job scene changes through industrial downsizing, corporate buyouts and mergers, and lengthened work time. Burnout produces both physical and behavioural changes, in some instances leading to chemical abuse. The health professionals at risk include physicians, nurses, social workers, dentists, care providers in oncology and AIDS-patient care personnel, emergency service staff members, mental health workers, and speech and language pathologists, among others. Early identification of this emotional slippage is needed to prevent the depersonalization of the provider-patient relationship. Prevention and treatment are essentially parallel efforts, including greater job control by the individual worker, group meetings, better up-and-down communication, more recognition of individual worth, job redesign, flexible work hours, full orientation to job requirements, available employee assistance programmes, and adjuvant activity. Burnout is a health care professional's occupational disease which must be recognized early and treated.