New research finds trifecta of issues putting junior doctors at risk of burnout

Morgan Liotta

27/09/2018 2:15:56 PM

General practice registrar Dr Rebekah Hoffman talks to newsGP about her research and personal experience of burnout in junior doctors.

Dr Rebekah Hoffman says that for junior doctors there is no shame in admitting you are struggling and need to ask for help.
Dr Rebekah Hoffman says that for junior doctors there is no shame in admitting you are struggling and need to ask for help.

When Dr Rebekah Hoffman started out as a junior doctor, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
‘I had a pretty rotten experience,’ she told newsGP.
Dr Hoffman believes she is not alone.
‘Not only is burnout more common [among junior doctors], but a lot of the time they don’t recognise it in themselves,’ she said.
It was her own experience that led Dr Hoffman to pursue general practice and academia.
‘My time [as a junior doctor] was what drove me to where I am now,’ she said. ‘So in hindsight, it was a good thing, but it was pretty awful at the time.’
Dr Hoffman has since completed an Australian General Practice Training academic post and currently splits her time between clinical and academic work, while juggling family life.
She has recently conducted research through the University of Wollongong, exploring the triggers that affect doctors’ physical and mental health. 
‘I wanted to do something that was meaningful to the experience that I’ve had and where I was at in life that was hopefully able to benefit junior doctors,’ she said.
‘I think it’s important to have a personal connection to any of your own research. It makes it more meaningful.’
The aim of Dr Hoffman’s research is to understand the experience of burnout and its causes, based on a study of junior doctors working in hospitals and general practice. The findings revealed a trifecta of issues that can put these doctors at risk of burnout.
‘We found that there were three things that, if junior doctors were experiencing, this essentially meant they were at risk of burnout,’ Dr Hoffman said.
‘The one that is probably most acknowledged is self-care: who is looking after them and how they are looking after themselves through diet, exercise and having their own GP.
‘The second is the response of others: when they approach their senior [supervisor or hospital manager] whether they got a positive response and were looked after. That was a protective factor.
‘The third one is how prepared the junior doctor is for any situation: whether that be technical skills or how prepared they were for their career decisions or for the term they were going into. And if they felt they were prepared, they were confident and knew what they were doing and able to do that job. That was again a protective factor.’
Dr Hoffman has found junior doctors can often encounter ‘imposter syndrome’, feeling as though they are not able to confidently complete the tasks they are assigned.
According to Dr Hoffman, it is in this scenario that support and guidance from a supervisor is a priority, and regularly ‘checking in’ is a good start to gauge if there are any issues.
‘I would be hoping that every day the seniors just ask if their juniors are okay,’ she said. ‘If they are comfortable with what they are being asked to do. Do they know how to do that task, do they want to be supervised first or is it something they are keen and confident and able to do?
‘Just simply checking in and acknowledging that it’s a new skill will actually make a big difference for the junior doctors.’
Dr Hoffman’s advice to junior doctors who may be feeling stressed or unable to cope is to remind themselves to check in, with not only their seniors but also themselves, to help prevent burnout taking hold.
‘Taking a break and giving yourself some relief and acknowledging that there is no shame in admitting that you’re struggling and you need to ask for help,’ she said.
‘Get your own GP and generally look after yourself and allow yourself to be looked after by others.’
Dr Hoffman has also recently published an article in Australian Journal of General Practice (AJGP), summarising her research on junior doctor burnout, which includes a model for risk of burnout, illustrating the hypothesis of her study.

academic post doctor burnout junior doctors mental health

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