In the Literature: Research You Need to Know


Clinical question: What is the relationship between well-being and demographic factors, educational debt, and medical knowledge in internal-medicine residents?

Background: Physician distress during training is common and can negatively impact patient care. There has never been a study of internal-medicine residents nationally that examined the patterns of distress across demographic factors or the association of these factors with medical knowledge.

Study design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: U.S. internal-medicine residency programs.

Synopsis: Of the 21,208 U.S. internal-medicine residents who completed the 2008 in-training examination, 77.3% had both survey and demographic data available for analysis. Nearly 15% of these 16,394 residents rated quality of life “as bad as it can be” or “somewhat bad,” and 32.9% felt somewhat or very dissatisfied with work-life balance.

Overall burnout, high levels of weekly emotional exhaustion, and weekly depersonalization were reported by 51.5%, 45.8%, and 28.9% of residents, respectively. Symptoms of emotional exhaustion decreased as training increased, while depersonalization increased after the first postgraduate year. Residents reporting quality of life “as bad as it can be,” emotional exhaustion, or debt greater than $200,000 had mean exam scores 2.7, 4.2, and 5 points, respectively, lower than others surveyed.

Although unlikely given the study design, nonresponse bias could affect these results. Not all demographic variables or domains of well-being were studied, and self-reported educational debt could have been misclassified. Nonetheless, findings suggest that distress remains among residents despite the changes made to duty-hour regulations in 2003.

Bottom line: Suboptimal quality of life and burnout were common among internal-medicine residents nationally; symptoms of burnout were associated with higher debt and lower exam scores.

Citation: West CP, Shanafelt TD, Kolars JC. Quality of life, burnout, educational debt, and medical knowledge among internal medicine residents. JAMA. 2011;306:952-960.

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