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Resident Physician Burnout

ISMS recognizes the serious effects of resident burnout and created an ad hoc committee through its Council on Education & Health Workforce to study the issue in depth. The conclusions of the ad hoc committee resulted in ISMS developing an online resource for residents and program directors.

Through this online resource, you will find links to the latest research on resident burnout, as well as many resources for both physicians and faculty in graduate medical education to help residents (and other physicians) combat burnout.

This site was created with the input of resident, student, and physician members. ISMS presents this online resource to assist physicians-in-training and practicing physicians in the area of burnout and stress.

We welcome your feedback and suggestions. You may contact us at rfs@isms.org.


Much time and energy has been focussed on resident fatigue and its potential impact on the quality of medical care. As early as 1984, New York passed regulations regarding resident work hours because a woman died at a New York hospital after being cared for by a resident who had been on duty for 18 hours.

More recently, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) has enforced work hour regulations limiting residents to an 80 hour work week/30 hour shift maximum, with an average of 1 out of every 7 days off in the spirit of patient safety. However, little has been done to look at the effect the long hours and high stress environment have on residents themselves.

What is Burnout?

A JAMA article covered the concept of resident "burnout," defined as "a pathological syndrome in which emotional depletion and maladaptive detachment develop in response to prolonged occupational stress." Thomas NK. Resident burnout. JAMA. 2004 Dec 15; 292 (23):2880-9. Review. PMID: 15598920 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Burnout is measured in three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low sense of personal accomplishment.

This syndrome appears to affect women and men equally. Potential sources of burnout include time demands, lack of control over time management and work planning, interpersonal relationship conflicts, inherent difficult job situations, inadequate feedback and problematic dependency on superiors.

In a program that successfully reduced work hours to meet with ACGME requirements, levels of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and feelings of personal accomplishment did not significantly change. These results indicate that burnout is not merely a result of long work hours and more research needs to be done to reduce resident burnout.

Illinois Professionals Health Program

The Illinois Professionals Health Program (IPHP) is a confidential program that aids physicians with problems related to alcohol and drug abuse, psychiatric disability, dual diagnosis, physical disabilities, problems of aging, sexual misconduct, and the stress of everyday medical practice.

Initially developed by and offered through the Illinois State Medical Society, IPHP is now an independent LLC, and has no disciplinary authority. It is strictly an advocacy group for physicians and those concerned about them. All participant-related information is kept completely confidential and is protected by Illinois state law. 

IPHP maintains a 24-hour Help Line (1.800.215.4357) for physicians to call when troubled or seeking help in a crisis situation.


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