Intern to Attending: Assessing Stress Among Physicians

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Abstract

Purpose

Organizations have raised concerns regarding stress in the medical work environment and effects on health care worker performance. This study's objective was to assess workplace stress among interns, residents, and attending physicians using Ecological Momentary Assessment technology, the gold-standard method for real-time measurement of psychological characteristics.

Method

The authors deployed handheld computers with customized software to 185 physicians on the medicine and pediatric wards of four major teaching hospitals. The physicians contemporaneously recorded multiple dimensions of physician work (e.g., type of call day), emotional stress (e.g., worry, stress, fatigue), and perceived workload (e.g., patient volume). The authors performed descriptive statistics and t test and linear regression analyses.

Results

Participants completed 5,673 prompts during an 18-month period from 2004 to 2005. Parameters associated with higher emotional stress in linear regression models included male gender (t = −2.5, P = .01), total patient load (t = 4.2, P < .001), and sleep quality (t = −2.8, P = .006). Stress levels reported by attendings (t = −3.3, P = .001) were lower than levels reported by residents (t = −2.6, P = .009), and emotional stress levels of attendings and residents were both lower compared with interns.

Conclusions

On inpatient wards, after recent resident duty hours changes, physician trainees continue to show wide-ranging evidence of workplace stress and poor sleep quality. This is among the first studies of medical workplace stress in real time. These results can help residency programs target education in stress and sleep and readdress workload distribution by training level. Further research is needed to clarify behavioral factors underlying variability in housestaff stress responses.

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