Burnout Fallout

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Science  15 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6002, pp. 297
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6002.297-b

It is no secret that medical school requires many years of hard work, lack of sleep, and late-night study sessions. However, it has been unclear to what extent such stress might affect the students' capacity to act professionally (i.e., with honesty and integrity in adherence to their ethical code of conduct). Dyrbye et al. conducted a multi-institutional study of medical school students at all levels in the United States that measured multiple dimensions of professionalism and assessed the relationship to burnout and stress. Their goal was to better understand the influence that attending medical school had on the degree of professionalism reported by respondents. Self-reported cheating and dishonest clinical behaviors showed a direct association with burnout, whereas altruistic professional values showed an inverse relationship, in keeping with the theory that burnout primarily affects the professional domain. Even though respondents reported understanding that cheating and dishonesty are unprofessional, they continued to exhibit these behaviors, suggesting that elements of their learning climate promote dishonesty. As the United States begins to reform its health care system, the effect of burnout in this area merits further study, with a particular focus on whether interventions designed to diminish stress help students develop professional values and behavior. Results from this study also raise a larger question: Is this association also true in practicing physicians?

J. Am. Med. Assoc. 304, 1173 (2010).

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