Researchers in the department of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital recently conducted research on medical interns. Medical interns are subjected to extreme amounts of pressure and stress. As a result, many interns develop major depressive disorder (MDD) or burnout syndrome. Traditionally, major depressive disorder has been thought to be attributed to both personal and job-related stress. In comparison, burnout syndrome has been thought to be primarily attributed to job-related stress. Previous research has indicated that these illnesses are distinct from one another and that the factors contributing to the development of these illnesses differ. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital wanted to set the record straight and determine if the illnesses do overlap or if they are distinct from one another.
Researchers decided to utilize surveys to collect data. Never fear, these surveys were validated! Approximately 2865 medical interns completed the online surveys. The surveys were taken at the start of their intern year and again at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months into their intern year. The first survey was a 9-item questionnaire that screened for depressive symptoms. The second survey was a 9-item questionnaire that measured emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (detachment within oneself), often associated with burnout syndrome. The data was compiled, and researchers attempted to identify associations between individual and workplace variables and the survey scores.
The moment you have been waiting for is here… the results! According to the data, there was an association between personal stress related factors and the development of major depressive disorder and burnout syndrome. The following characteristics and conditions were associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms, emotional exhaustion, and depersonalization: 1) Female sex 2) History of depression 3) Increased Neuroticism score 4) Increased early family environment score 5) Single marital status and 6) Lack of children. There was also an association between workplace stress related factors and the development of MDD and burnout syndrome. Increased workload and increased learning environment satisfaction score were associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms, emotional exhaustion, and depersonalization.
So, what do the results indicate? It may not be a surprise to know that the results suggested an overlap between the two illnesses. There are specific personal stress related factors and workplace stress related
factors that are associated with the symptoms indicative of both MDD and burnout syndrome. In addition, these results refute the notion that burnout syndrome is primarily attributed to workplace stress related factors. The data acknowledged that personal factors such as female sex, single marital status, and history of depression are associated with an increase in emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, both symptoms that correspond with burnout syndrome.
This research provided valuable information about the health of medical interns. Personal stress and workplace stress can contribute greatly to the development of MDD and burnout syndrome. Understanding the factors typically associated with MDD and burnout syndrome can help medical interns seek treatment as early as possible. Medical interns are not the only individuals that experience stress. We all do at one point or another in our lives. My advice? Try not to let the pressure and stress get to you. If it does, seek treatment as soon as possible.
Rotenstein, L.S., Zhao, Z., Mata, D.A., Guille, C., & Sen, S. 2020. Substantial Overlap Between Factors Predicting Symptoms of Depression and Burnout Among Medical Interns. Journal of General Internal Medicine.