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Burnout in Intensive Care

A recent article in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) written by two Victorian Intensivists has set to highlight the importance of recognising and managing stress and burnout within intensive care medicine (ICM).

The article states the concerning data from a recent study in 2008 highlighting the prevalence of psychological stress and discomfort in a practising ICM specialist population. It goes on to describe what "burnout" is and the characteristics that have been used to describe it.

The article also highlights that burnout isn't necessarily correlated with job satisfaction and that multiple factors are at play. In an era when ICU admissions are ever increasing, the pressures of ICU teams outside of the ICUs are mounting and the increased coverage of ICU specialists is demanded, the reasons leading to burn-out are stacking up. This is before we take into account the rigorous demands of the job itself and the ethical and emotional tolls that the job can take.

Simpson and Knott described what they see as the evolving trends within Intensive Care that are potentially worsening the problem of burn-out. Included in these were "greater intensivist coverage, shift work, an increasingly fractionalised workforce with unequal gender balance and the evolving problem of external & ward-based responsibilities".

Their solutions to this concerning problem comes from the top; leadership from the intensivists themselves, compassionate staffing, flexible rostering and ensured leave. In a profession where clinicians are normally the last people to accept they have a problem or vulnerability that needs addressing, the issue of burnout needs to be tackled head on and with interest from all parties.

From the Women In Intensive Care perspective, gender balance within our Intensive Care units is pivotal to making the workplace an inclusive and productive place, aiming to reduce opportunities for burn out. Advocating for appropriate maternity leave, paternity leave and part-time work without the fear of it being detrimental to the career of the Intensivist is only going to improve burnout rates.

The multilevel response that Simpson and Knott are advocating is pivotal to changing the culture of our workforce and improving the welfare of all intensive care trainees and specialists. This will lead on to better outcomes for our patients, which is the one outcome we are all striving for.

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