Burnout: No Easy Answers in a Post-Pandemic World
by Sarah Alber, MD
As I sit here writing a piece about work-life balance for women critical care physicians, I feel compelled to paint the picture of my current situation: in-house on call at 9pm on a Friday night, an AirPod in one ear teleconferencing my children to say goodnight, strapped into a portable breast pump, eating the fastest thing I could get from the hospital cafeteria (which is invariably fried), all while typing away at this piece in the physician work room. I am awash in irony. Is this the image of the prototypical woman intensivist? Not at all. Am I currently burned out? Actually, I don’t think so. Have I been burned out at some point during my medical career thus far? Definitely. How do I refine my career plan to achieve work-life balance and sustainability for a satisfying and productive professional career? Unclear, check back later.
We are over two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and while we are largely out of quarantine and back out in the world, stress and burnout continue to play major roles in the intensive care unit, particularly for women intensivists. A look at the Medscape 2022 Physician Burnout & Depression and the Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Reports put into numbers what we all probably intuitively expected: With over 10,000 respondents to both surveys (38% women) across 29 specialties, burnout in 2021 continued to increase with 47% of respondents reporting burnout vs. 42% in 2020. Of these physicians experiencing burnout, the majority were women (56% vs. 41%). More concerning yet, critical care was the second highest specialty reporting burnout at 56%. So, for all of the women critical care physicians out there feeling tired and burned out – take solace that you are not alone.
Women were over twice as likely to feel “very conflicted” as parents due to work demands during the last year, and indeed many women left the workforce entirely to assume childcare and homeschooling responsibilities. On top of that, “Mom guilt” (the feeling of not doing enough as a parent, or making incorrect parenting decisions) during time outside of our professional roles compounded this stress. Not only do we feel stressed as parents, but 68% of respondents also reported that burnout had affected their relationships with their spouse or partner. We feel this imbalance so much so that 60% of female respondents reported they would be likely to take a pay cut for better work-life balance.
While these trends have made headlines in the setting of the pandemic, women intensivists have long felt the societal pressure to not only be a great physician/researcher/educator/leader, but also be outstanding in our roles outside of the hospital (as a parent, wife/partner, etc.).
What do we do about it? How do we balance this expectation when it is clear that burnout is running rampant among our ranks? Maybe more importantly, how do we become role models and agents of change for the future generations of medical students, residents, and fellows who are interested in our specialty but concerned about a sustainable professional career?
The simple answers for our personal wellbeing (spend time with family & friends, participate in hobbies, eat healthy and get plenty of sleep and exercise) are all represented in the Medscape reports. But the truth is there isn’t an easy answer to how we support women who are disproportionately experiencing higher rates of stress and burnout. As we define our “new normal” in the post-pandemic world, we have the opportunity to emphasize wellness, health, work-life balance and burnout prevention systemically, particularly for the support of women critical care physicians.
So, tomorrow I will spend time with my family, we will go hiking and enjoy the sunshine. I will be proud of my efforts in the hospital, honored at the opportunity to provide critical care for my patients, and proud to educate and inspire the next generation of residents and fellows.
1-Baggett SM, Martin KL. “Medscape Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report 2022,” Medscape, 1/14/2022. Accessed 8/6/2022. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2022-lifestyle-happiness-6014665
2-Kane L. “Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2022: Stress, Anxiety and Anger,” Medscape, 1/21/2022. Accessed 8/6/2022. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2022-lifestyle-burnout-6014664
Sarah Alber, MD
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
Associate Program Director, Anesthesiology
Critical Care Medicine Fellowship
CU Anschutz Medical Campus
SOCCA Reception at 2023 SCCM Critical Care Congress in San Francisco
Time: 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM PT
Location: Hilton Union Square (333 O’Farrell Street)
Room: Franciscan A
When: February 2, 2023 | 6:00 PM ET
Where: Register online
Description: Join us for our first Early Career Intensivist Group Meet and Greet of the year on February 2 at 6pm ET. We will have SOCCA board member Dr. Ashish Khanna joining us for a lively discussion about navigating through life as an Early Career Intensivist. We look forward to seeing you soon!
Mechanical Circulatory Support (MCS) / Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) / Cardio Thoracic ICU (CTICU) Workgroup
Members who have a special interest in MCS are invited to join this workgroup. Our first meeting will be January 19, 2023, at 5PM CST. Please register in advance: SOCCA CTICU/ECMO Meetup Link.
This year, SOCCA is seeking committee volunteers for our communication, education, membership, and research committees—as well as the new clinical practice committee. To view committee descriptions and submit an application, visit https://socca.org/get-involved/.
You may submit an application for a SOCCA Committee between November 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022.
Learn more & review SOCCA’s Volunteer Selection Criteria.
This election cycle, SOCCA will be electing three members for the Board of Directors (3-year term). Further details about the governance structure of SOCCA are described in SOCCA’s Society Bylaws.
SOCCA members interested in serving in an elected positions on the SOCCA Board of Directors should submit a letter of interest, photograph, and curriculum vitae to Vivian Abalama, IOM, CAE ([email protected]) with subject line “2023 SOCCA Board of Directors Election.”
Review criteria by which Board of Directors and volunteer leaders are evaluated: Volunteer Selection Criteria.
You can apply via email only for a Board of Directors position between November 1, 2022 and December 5, 2022.
SOCCA Innovators Award: applications open 9/30/2022 – 12/31/2022.
Gender Equality in Critical Care
Major professional societies & organizations have the obligation to initiate & sustain strategies that support & enhance gender equality in critical care. WICC invites members of SOCCA to participate & discuss ways to advance these goals & values. Understanding & recognizing gender diversity challenges & carrying on the momentum gathered in recent years within SOCCA and outside it, will enable a positive environment for more women to enter & remain within ACCM.
SOCCA has a calendar/list of events. Visit it regularly & save essential dates.
The SOCCA Speakers Bureau has officially launched! As a SOCCA member, you may now:
Have you made any changes in 2022? It’s time to update your SOCCA demographic profile and / or renew your membership. Keep your SOCCA experience seamless & don’t miss out on any updates & member benefits. Visit: buff.ly/3sPMG6j
SOCCA would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of our female intensivists during this month and year-round. Throughout September, four of our members will be sharing their experiences as a woman in critical care.
Read: Burnout: No Easy Answers in a Post-Pandemic World, by Sarah Alber, MD
Read: Belonging to an Organization: Professional Advancement & Personal Gains, by Nazish Hashmi, MD
Read: Mentors and Mentees: A Powerful Connection, by May Hua, MD, MS
Read: Women in Critical Care: Where We Are & Where We Want to Be, by Shahla Siddiqui, MD, MSc, FCCM
Shahla Siddiqui, MD, MSc, FCCM, and Co-Chair of SOCCA’s Women in Critical Care recently edited a special issue of Journal of Critical Care featuring women as first and senior authors. Read Dr. Siddiqui’s introduction in Volume 71 | October 2022 issue.
The SOCCA Early Career Intensivists working group provides new members and members who are early in their careers with the resources needed to ease the transition from trainee to practicing intensivist. Learn more.
Have you read “SOCCA, the Pandemic, and the Future” by SOCCA’s Miguel Cobas, MD, FCCM, in this month’s ASA Monitor? Visit: https://socca.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Cobas_SOCCA.pdf
As a SOCCA member, you are eligible to receive a discount on an IARS membership. IARS membership benefits include a subscription to Anesthesia & Analgesia, SOCCA’s official journal, A&A Practice e-journal, free journal CME, access to a member community and discounted registration to the IARS Annual Meeting. Click here to view a list of membership options.
Anesthesiology Critical Care Fellowship Programs
Have you visited SOCCA’s Anesthesiology Critical Care Fellowship Programs page? If you would like your organization’s program added to our site, let us know here: https://socca.org/new-socca-fellowship-listing/.