Emotional Intelligence and Burnout in Surgical Residents: A 5-Year Study

Academic Article


  • Objective: We sought to characterize the interactions of burnout with internal and external factors over the past 5 years for surgery residents at our institution. We hypothesized that burnout levels would be consistent among years, inversely related to emotional intelligence (EI) and job resources, and directly related to disruptive behaviors. Design: General surgery residents at a single institution were invited to complete a survey each year from 2015 to 2019 that included a combination of the 22-item Maslach-Burnout Inventory, 30-item trait EI questionnaire, as well as focused questions assessing disruptive behaviors (8 items), job resources (8 items), and demographic characteristics. Burnout was defined as scoring high in depersonalization (≥ 10 points) or emotional exhaustion (≥ 27 points). Student's t tests and Wilcoxon tests were used to compare continuous variables; chi-square and Fisher's exact tests were used to compare categorical variables, as appropriate. Spearman's rho was used to calculate correlation. A logistic regression and separate linear regression model were constructed to assess relation of variables to burnout. Setting: The general surgery residency program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, a large tertiary care academic center. Results: An average of 47 surveys were completed each year, for a total of 236 (response rate 81%). One hundred seventeen (58.5%) met criteria for burnout. Burnout rates each year ranged from 68% to 53%, with the lowest value occurring in 2019. Incidence of burnout was lowest among the postgraduate year (PGY) 1 class and highest among the PGY5 class (38% versus 64%, p = 0.02). Individuals without burnout had higher scores for EI overall (5.7 versus 5.3, p < 0.001) as well as in each of its 4 subcomponents (p < 0.001). Individuals who were subjected to disruptive behaviors, particularly others taking credit for work and public humiliation, were more likely to experience burnout (p = 0.02). Those with burnout also had significantly lower scores in each of the 4 domains of the Job Resources model (p < 0.01). On multivariate logistic regression, increasing PGY level remained a significant predictor of burnout risk. Each of the sub-domains of EI and jobs resources inversely corelated with burnout, while disruptive behaviors directly correlated with burnout. ON subsequent multivariable linear regression, resident well-being and professional development remained independent predictors of lower burnout scores. Conclusions: Burnout is prevalent among trainees at our institution, but a trend toward improvement has been shown over 5 years. Burnout rates increase each year of surgical training beyond PGY2. Factors that mitigate burnout include resident well-being and professional development. Disruptive behaviors lead to increase burnout rates.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Gleason F; Baker SJ; Wood T; Wood L; Hollis RH; Chu DI; Lindeman B
  • Start Page

  • e63
  • End Page

  • e70
  • Volume

  • 77
  • Issue

  • 6