Those numbers are pretty staggering, and not a lot better than they were in the bad old days before work hour restrictions. In addition to the obvious idea that society doesn’t have much interest in a generation of exhausted and unhappy doctors, burnout has been fairly conclusively linked to increased rates of medical errors.

I can’t help but think that we might have something to learn from Lagat. Surgical and medical residencies in the United States don’t have a lot of time built in for rest — beyond the one day per week, 4 weeks per year that you’re allowed away from the hospital — which is recommended as time to be spent studying for in-training exams. 

Even people who take a year or two off for research are thrust immediately into the hypercompetitive publish-or-perish world of academics. There’s little chance for a reprieve.

Of course, as even Lagat would tell you, this approach probably isn’t one-size-fits all. Context matters, and resident doctors are developing skills and a knowledge base that might well suffer from periodic extended breaks. 

On the other hand, it’s certainly reasonable to think that our aversion to rest — both in terms of weekly work requirements and paucity of periodic medium-term sabbaticals — is driven by a culture that venerates past methods and lionizes hard work (although track is really no different in that respect).

If medical training isn’t a marathon, it’s at least a hotly-contested 5K race. The question is, are we okay with 69% of our athletes burning out? Or should we try to be more like Lagat?

Reference

  1. Elmore LC, Jeffe DB, Jin L, et al. National Survey of Burnout Among US General Surgery Residents. J Am Coll Surg. 2016;223(3):440-451. doi:10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2016.05.014