The COVID-19 reset: lessons from the pandemic on Burnout and the Practice of Surgery

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Article, Peer-reviewed

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Background: Burnout among physicians is an increasing concern, and surgeons are not immune to this threat. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused dramatic changes to surgeon workflow, often leading to redeployment to other clinical areas, slowdown and shutdown of elective surgery practices, and an uncertain future of surgical practice in the post-pandemic setting. Paradoxically, for many surgeons who had to prepare for but not immediately care for a major surge, the crisis did allow for reflective opportunities and a resetting of priorities that could serve to mitigate chronic patterns contributory to Burnout.

Methods: SAGES Reimagining the Practice of Surgery task force convened a webinar to discuss lessons learned from the COVID pandemic that may address burnout.

Results: Burnout is multifactorial and may vary in cause among different generation/experience groups. Those that report burnout symptoms often complain of lacking purpose or meaning in their work. Although many mechanisms to address Burnout are from a defensive standpoint-including coping mechanisms, problem solving, and identification of a physician having wellness difficulties-offensive mechanisms such as pursuing purpose and meaning and finding joy in one's work can serve as reset points that promote thriving and fulfillment. Understanding what motivates physicians will help physician leaders to develop and sustain effective teams. Reinvigorating the surgical workforce around themes of meaning and joy in the service rendered via our surgical skills may diminish Burnout through generative and aspirational strategies, as opposed to merely reactive ones. Fostering an educational environment free of discriminatory or demeaning behavior may produce a new workforce conducive to enhanced and resilient wellbeing at the start of careers.

Conclusion: Surgeon wellness and self-care must be considered an important factor in the future of all healthcare delivery systems, a need reaffirmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19; Surgeon burnout; Wellness.