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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Shorter ICU Rotations Linked to Lower Burnout Among Intensivists

By Jill Drachenberg, Editor, Relias Media

Burnout among physicians and nurses is a growing problem. A 2018 Stanford University survey found that 55% of responding physicians reported feeling symptoms of burnout, and 6% had considered suicide. Fatigued physicians are at 38% greater risk of medical errors.

Determined to stem the burnout crisis, researchers are looking for new ways to help physicians destress and feel less burdened. The authors of a new study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania report that shortening shifts of critical care physicians in the ICU showed promising results for mitigating burnout and extreme stress.

The study team gave physicians in one ICU at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania the option to take either the traditional 14-day rotation or the experimental seven-day rotation. All physicians in two other units received the seven-day rotations, while a fourth unit worked 14 days with one weekend off. The researchers sent 180 surveys to the 29 physicians between May 2018 and February 2019. Physicians working the traditional 14-day rotations reported 61% burnout and 47% fulfillment rates, while those on the seven-day shifts reported 24% burnout and 76% fulfillment rates.

“In critical care medicine, periods of extreme stress can contribute to high burnout. Our study shows that organizations can implement new strategies, such as shorter staffing rotations, that have a real impact on burnout rates and job fulfillment—both of which can be extremely influential to the shape and direction of ones’ career,” lead author Mark E. Mikkelsen, MD, MSCE, chief of Medical Critical Care and an associate professor of medicine, said in a statement. “Based on our findings, we changed our scheduling approach to limit the number of consecutive days per rotation, and ensure adequate non-clinical time between rotations.”

As the issue of burnout gains more national attention, look to Relias Media for more in-depth coverage. Hospital Employee Health offers frequent analysis on the issue, including special coverage in the upcoming August issue on ways to prevent clinician burnout and violence against healthcare workers. ED Management provided in-depth analysis of the Stanford study in the September 2018 issue.