REGIONAL and rural doctors are just as much a risk of burnout as their city counterparts due to increased stresses on the health system, the Australian Medical Association says.
Responding to a report which will be published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, association national president Dr Tony Bartone said it was old-fashioned thinking to suggest that stress early in a doctor’s career was simply a ‘right of passage’.
The Medical Journal of Australia report written by Professor Michael Baigent, Professor of Psychiatry at Flinders University in Adelaide, and a board member of beyondblue, and Dr Ruth Baigent, a general practitioner, refers to a beyondblue survey of medical practitioners that shows 32 per cent of Australian doctors suffer a high level of exhaustion, while 35 per cent had high levels of cynicism, two of the three domains of burnout.
This level is much higher in doctors aged under 30, which shows almost 50 per cent suffer high levels of exhaustion and cynicism.
Dr Bartone said city, regional and rural doctors had similar experiences relating to burnout.
“It doesn’t really matter whether its the environment, workplace, systems, hours, support, back-up or redundancy in the system such as maternity, bereavement or sickness leave, the fact is the system is stretched and the hours we ask our doctors to work are invariably outside the norms that are acceptable,” he said.
“It can be even worse in the country, usually a lot of positions in the country are unfilled so there is already a stress on the service.”
The report said senior and experienced doctors must lead action to protect younger colleagues from burnout.
“There was a steady reduction across older age bands, with 11 per cent of doctors aged over 61 years reporting emotional exhaustion,” the report said.
“Perhaps those who burn out, get out of the profession. Also, in the life cycle of the doctor, the levels of external evaluation and autonomy also change favourably with years of experience.”
Dr Bartone said there were enough doctors coming through the education system but support was lacking.
“More so now than ever, there is a natural competitive process all the time and there are not enough training positions for graduates,” he said.
“Because it is so competitive, doctors are reluctant to reduce their hours. The reluctance to say you need time out in that competitive world means you suffer in silence.
“There needs to be an understanding that we need to look after our own health.
“This is a really complex area, we haven’t begun to scratch the surface. There’s so much research to go forward on this one. We need more research and more reliable data.”