Long work hours and nights on call can lead to depression and burnout among surgeons, according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Signs that you may be headed for burnout include:

  • Every day feels like a bad day and you're always exhausted
  • You feel that caring about your work or home life is just a waste of energy
  • You feel like nothing you do is appreciated or makes a difference

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine had nearly 8,000 surgeons from across the US complete surveys about their work and quality of life. These surveys included a self-assessment of their work performance, a depression scale, and measurements of burnout and quality of life.

As the surgeons' work hours and nights on call increased, so did their risk of being burned out and/or depressed. While 30% of surgeons working less than 60 hours a week were burned out, half of those working more than 80 hours a week were burned out. The rate of medical errors also increased with longer work hours and nights on call, as was the likelihood that the physicians would attribute those errors to burnout. One-fifth of surgeons working more than 80 hours a week reported that they would not choose to become a surgeon again, given the choice today. Despite these findings, two-thirds of surgeons said they did not want their hours regulated.

Today's research demonstrates how vulnerable surgeons are to burnout and depression and suggests that it might be helpful to identify those at highest risk and offer them supportive services before serious trouble sets in.