Personality tests could predict doctors' burnout


Burnout, depression and disillusionment amongst doctors are major concerns for health services. A new study in BMC Medicine suggests that future dissatisfaction could have been predicted when individual doctors applied to medical school, by assessing their personality, motivations and learning styles.

"High perceived workload and poor support from colleagues are determined as much by doctors themselves as by specific working conditions," write Professor Chris McManus and his colleagues from University College London.

Their twelve-year study of UK doctors found that approaches to work are predicted by earlier measures of study habits and learning styles. Doctors' perceptions of their work environment, and their feelings of stress and burnout, are predicted mainly by personality.

1,668 doctors currently working as Senior House Officers, Specialist Registrars or General Practitioners were asked about their approaches to work, stress levels, satisfaction with medicine as a career, and their personality. These doctors had previously answered similar questionnaires when they applied to medical school in 1990, upon leaving medical school, and during their first medical job.

Doctors who reported a high workload find it difficult to organise their time effectively, and often read things without understanding them. They also consistently reported higher levels of neuroticism and lower levels of conscientiousness over the twelve years of study.

Doctors who felt that they were not receiving enough support from their colleagues were themselves less agreeable. Those who described their colleagues as receptive and supportive were deemed to be more agreeable both from this questionnaire, and from the questionnaire they filled in six years previously.

Doctors who reported a high degree of satisfaction with medicine as a career tended to be more extraverted and less neurotic. In addition, these medics have a deep approach to work, favouring an integrative approach that leads to higher levels of personal understanding. In addition, they were categorised as having a similarly deep learning style both at the beginning and end of their medical school training.

"The medical workplace is a complex environment and doctors respond differently to it, some finding it stimulating and exciting, whereas others become stressed and burned out from the heavy workload," said McManus.

He continues: "Our study suggests that a knowledge of the personality and learning styles of medical students and doctors may be helpful in allowing individuals to have insight into their strengths and vulnerabilities, and thereby avoid situations in which they become stressed. In addition, such knowledge could help careers advisors and hospital managers to provide individualised advice and counselling for doctors so that they can achieve their full potential".

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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