Vital Times 2021 - 80

SPECIAL FEATURES
One Morning...
Mark Singleton, MD, FASA
ne morning, during my
third year of medical
school in 1978, I had
what I then thought of as a
nervous breakdown. Those
words were commonplace at
that time, and I didn't know
what else to call this upsetting
and bewildering experience. I
O
was 23 years old, and nothing like that ever happened
to me before or since.
I was several weeks into my medicine rotation at the
San Francisco VA Hospital, and I remember feeling
increasingly overwhelmed by a mountain of clinical
duties I was not competent to perform, medical
knowledge I pitifully lacked, and looming expectations
far beyond my capabilities. That day, I was incapable
of getting out of bed, terrified, mostly by the
incomprehensible nature of what was happening to me.
My recollection now is of a waking nightmare, terrible
racing thoughts, and anxious depression beyond words.
I managed to " call in sick " to my team's resident, and
spent the morning tossing in bed, pacing through my
apartment, and asking myself what was happening and
what was I going to do. After desperately talking to
my girlfriend, another student in my class, I was slowly
able to right myself and keep my mind from foundering.
The next day I showed up at the hospital, carried on
more or less as normal, and have rarely spoken of this
event since then.
The cover of the May 2021 issue of Anesthesiology
headlines " Burnout among Anesthesiologists " , and
features a study titled " Burnout Rate and Risk Factors
among Anesthesiologists in the United States " by
investigators from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer
Center, Boston Children's Hospital, and Harvard Medical
School.1 This study was encouraged and supported by
the ASA and its Committee on Physician Wellness. The
publication is accompanied by an editorial, Burnout:
The " Other " Pandemic. It is impossible to avoid this
subject these days.
The findings suggest that a majority of U.S.
anesthesiologists are at risk for burnout, and that
nearly 60% of us exhibit emotional exhaustion and
depersonalization ( " high risk of burnout " ) and 14% of us
presently suffer from these maladies, plus a low sense
of personal accomplishment ( " burnout syndrome " ).
Based on a survey sent to essentially all ASA members
in early March 2020, these results likely underestimate
the further impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has
had over the last two years on the well-being of
anesthesiologists across our nation.
As I think back on that time of crisis I had as a medical
student more than 40 years ago, it is clear to me
1 Alfonso AM, Cadwell JB, Staffa SJ, Zurakowski D, Vinson, AE: Burnout Rate and Risk Factors Among Anesthesiologists in the United States. Anesthesiology 2021; 134:683-96
80 | CSA Vital Times

Vital Times 2021

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