Psychological distress, burnout and personality traits in Dutch anaesthesiologists: A survey

van der Wal, R. et al. European Journal of Anaesthesiology: March 2016 – Volume 33 – Issue 3 – p 179–186

Background: The practice of anaesthesia comes with stress. If the demands of a stressful job exceed the resources of an individual, that person may develop burnout. Burnout poses a threat to the mental and physical health of the anaesthesiologist and therefore also to patient safety.

Objectives: Individual differences in stress appraisal (perceived demands) are an important factor in the risk of developing burnout. To explore this possible relationship, we assessed the prevalence of psychological distress and burnout in the Dutch anaesthesiologist population and investigated the influence of personality traits.

Results: Respectively, psychological distress and burnout were prevalent in 39.4 and 18% of all respondents. The prevalence of burnout was significantly different in resident and consultant anaesthesiologists: 11.3% vs. 19.8% (χ2 5.4; P < 0.02). The most important personality trait influencing psychological distress and burnout was neuroticism: adjusted odds ratio 6.22 (95% confidence interval 4.35 to 8.90) and 6.40 (95% confidence interval 3.98 to 10.3), respectively.

Conclusion: The results of this study show that psychological distress and burnout have a high prevalence in residents and consultant anaesthesiologists and that both are strongly related to personality traits, especially the trait of neuroticism. This suggests that strategies to address the problem of burnout would do well to focus on competence in coping skills and staying resilient. Personality traits could be taken into consideration during the selection of residents. In future longitudinal studies the question of how personal and situational factors interact in the development of burnout should be addressed.

Read the article abstract here

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