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Study quantifies junior doctor distress

Study quantifies junior doctor distress - Featured Image


Australian junior medical officers (JMOs) suffer from dangerously high levels of psychological stress that are considerably greater than in the general population, according to new research published in the Internal Medicine Journal.

The study of over 1,000 JMOs surveyed between 2014 and 2016 assessed distress according to the commonly used Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). The average score was 18.1, compared with 13 in the general Australian population shown in previous studies.

Unsurprisingly, increasing hours of work correlated with higher distress, with every extra hour worked per week increasing the odds of a high K10 score by 3%.

Smoking and drinking alcohol as ways of relieving stress were correlated with higher levels of distress, as was taking illicit drugs, which 7.7% of those surveyed admitted to doing.

Feeling ill-equipped during internship and workplace bullying were also associated with higher distress levels.

On the other hand, spending time with friends or family correlated to lower levels of distress.

Only 17% of those surveyed had resorted to professional help for their psychological distress. GPs were most commonly the first port of call, followed by private psychologists or psychiatrists.

Worryingly, nearly 20% of JMOs said that if they had their time over again, they wouldn’t choose to do medicine.

The researchers from Sydney’s Nepean Hospital said that theirs was the first study to measure psychological distress in Australian JMOs over a three-year period. The bulk of existing literature relies on data from overseas, they noted, and even that literature was skewed towards senior clinicians rather than junior doctors.

They wrote that although long hours correlated with increased distress, one of the issues was the difficulty of accurately monitoring how many hours JMOs worked, due to a culture of unpaid overtime.

They said their work demonstrated the need for a more focused approach to JMO support and education, encompassing increased administrative support, education on coping strategies and action around bullying behaviour.

You can read the study here.

The Australian Medical Association has a wide range of online resources for junior medical officers on its website.

For more information about health issues for doctors, access online resources from Doctors’ Health Services Pty Ltd.