Burnout Fakes and Facts

We often hear that the media is full of fake news.  Agendas precede facts.  Recently three researchers pulled off a hoax to expose this reality when their bogus research was published in peer-review journals.  Seven of their twenty fake articles which included absurd conclusions were accepted.  One research example claimed that studying the genitals of almost 10,000 canines revealed that training men like dogs could reduce cases of sexual abuse.  With ridiculous research like this, it’s no surprise that data surrounding other issues like caregiver burnout could also be misleading.

Confusing Statistics

When I began researching burnout, I kept hearing how prevalent it was and that burning out in healthcare is practically inevitable.  So I decided to look at the data.  One study claimed that 40% of nurses experience burnout (1).  Another study claimed palliative care nurses suffered burnout 19.5% of the time (2).  According to another study, the prevalence of nursing burnout was merely “high” but varied depending on personality traits (3).  In Argentina, the incidence was higher than 80%,(4) in Iran, it differed significantly between men and women (46% and 65% respectively)(5).

Among physicians, one recent study stated that physicians experience burnout 76% of the time.  However when a more restricted measurement was used the number dropped to 18% (6).  The Mayo Clinic conducted a study revealing half of American Physicians have at least one sign of burnout (7).  How are we to interpret this data?  Which studies are accurate and how prevalent is caregiver burnout?

To answer that question, researchers performed a comprehensive systematic review of the data surrounding burnout which concluded eye-opening results.  The results of one survey demonstrated the prevalence of burnout among physicians was between 0-81% (8).  Among ICU nurses the range was 0%-70% (9). 

Translation:  The prevalence of caregiver burnout is…we have no idea!

Confusing Definition

One problem with burnout is defining it.  The definitions vary as widely as the data.  Generally, burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion that leads to depersonalization and decreased personal accomplishment.  But this definition is vague which may lead to some of the discrepancies of prevalence.

Another reason for the discrepancy surrounding burnout is the way it’s measured.  The gold standard of measurement is the Maslach Burnout Inventory established in the 1980s which measures three standard dimensions of burnout:  emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment.  Responses range from zero (“never”) to six (“every day”).  However, the inventory is subjectively assessed and self-reported leading to questions of validity (10). 

Practically speaking, who hasn’t experienced days of frustration, exhaustion, or lethargy in their job?  But is this burnout?  Hardly.

Clarifying Burnout

There is a difference between saying, “I can’t do this today” and “I can’t do this anymore.”  The former usually indicates an acute, familiar situation.  The latter characterizes a more chronic condition that needs addressing.

Of course, not all news is fake, and most research is legitimate.  But examples like these remind us that statistics, like fake news, can be misleading and even be used to promote an agenda.  As John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”(11)  However, the interpretation of the facts can be pliable.  

Undoubtedly, people experience burnout.  Healthcare providers seem to experience higher levels of it than many other careers.  Is it inevitable?  All the data points to a definite no, but this does not mean we should dismiss burnout.  Our resiliency, mental health, and patient outcomes depend on it.

Ways To Manage and Prevent Burnout

Take steps to manage and prevent yourself from being another burnout statistic.  Then again, if you fall in the 0% burnout prevalent category, maybe that’s not a bad thing.

To learn more about ways to manage and prevent Caregiver Burnout, click here to take an online study course.  As a bonus – Nurses and Respiratory Therapists receive three contact hours of education!

Need more one-on-one help?  Give Coaching a try.

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1 Ramirez-Baena, Lucia et al. (2019) A Multicentre Study of Burnout Prevalence and Related Psychological Variables in Medical Area Hospital Nurses, Journal of clinical medicine vol. 8,1 92. 15

2 Parola, V, et al. (2017) Prevalence of burnout in health professionals working in palliative care:  A Systematic Review, JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep. July 15 (7):  1905-1933

3 Guillermo A. et al. (2015) Risk factors and prevalence of burnout syndrome in the nursing profession, Int Journal of Nursing Studies (52) 240-249

4 Torre, M, et al. (2018) Burnout prevalence in intensive care nurses in Argentina, Enferm Intensive, Jul 27

5 Khammar, Alireza et al. (2018) Data for the prevalence of nurses׳ burnout in Iran (a meta-analysis dataset), Data in brief vol. 20 1779-1786. 11 Sep

6 Lin, M, et al. (2019) High Prevalence of Burnout Among US Emergency Medicine Residents: Results From the 2017 National Emergency Medicine Wellness Survey, Ann Emerg Med. March 14

7 Shanafelt TD, et al.  Changes in burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance in physicians and the general US working population between 2011 and 2014, Mayo Clin Proc; 90: 1600-1613

8 Rotenstein, Lisa, et al. (2018) Prevalence of Burnout Among Physicians:  A systematic review, JAMA 320 (11):  1131-1150

9 Margo, M. et al. (2015) The prevalence of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout among Healthcare Professionals in Intensive Care Units:  A Systematic Review, Plos One

10 Kotaro Shoji, et al. (2015)  Associations between job burnout and self-efficacy: a meta-analysis, Anxiety, Stress, & Coping 

11 ‘Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,’ December 1770

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