The necessity of safeguarding surgeon well-being has taken on increased importance in recent years as its connection to career satisfaction and patient outcomes becomes clearer. Because surgery is a demanding profession, mentally and emotionally, much of the language has been aimed at avoiding burnout—a reduced sense of accomplishment or connection to a job.
But is burnout truly the worry, or is it something deeper, like moral injury?
Clinical Congress attendees can join colleagues for a collective discussion of the current understanding of the differences between burnout and moral injury, the language of each, and learn about best practices from participants who have dealt with the challenges. This in-person Town Hall session, TH204. Is it Burnout, or Is It Really Moral Injury?, will be held today from 7:00-7:45 am in Room 3, on the Upper Level of the San Diego Convention Center. Timothy M. Farrell, MD, FACS, professor of surgery at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, and Laura S. Johnson, MD, FACS, medical director of the Burn Center at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, GA, will co-moderate the session.
Burnout—having dominated the discussion of physician dissatisfaction and attrition—can be conceptualized as a systems-based problem, with symptoms developing in an individual due to the excessive demands imposed by the workplace environment.
A less familiar concept to surgeons, moral injury is a type of distress derived from a physician’s inability to live up to his or her personal oath to put patient welfare first. This may be caused by constraints and demands imposed by agents outside of one’s control, whether insurers, hospitals, families, or others.
The landscape of medicine has profoundly changed during the last few years, with the social isolation created by the COVID-19 pandemic superimposed over increasingly challenging work environments and patient interactions. By sharing individual stories in this open forum, the power of narrative and collective problem-solving may contribute to improved understanding of what all surgeons may struggle with at various times in their careers.