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Stress and burnout in intensive care medicine: an Australian perspective

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A call for a multilevel response to an evolving challenge

Intensive care medicine (ICM) is an evolving high stakes specialty. Emerging evidence raises questions about the welfare and sustainability of the ICM workforce. Clinician burnout is a phenomenon resulting in consequences for both intensive caregivers and patients.

While resident doctors, fellows and new consultants across many specialties display high levels of stress and burnout relative to the general population,1 ICM clinicians are disproportionately affected, rating higher on stress, burnout and compassion fatigue indices.2 Paediatric intensivists have markedly higher burnout rates than general paediatricians.3 An Australian ICM study described an 80% rate of psychological stress and discomfort in a practising ICM specialist population, with many reporting burnout symptoms.4

Burnout is a state of psychological distress related to chronic stress. Prevalence estimation using different tools, alternate metrics and cut-off points have made epidemiological studies of ICM clinician burnout challenging.5 The Maslach Burnout Inventory is the most commonly used burnout instrument in this area and scores three major characteristics of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and low levels…