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Latest research shows that burnout, anxiety and depression high among medical doctors in Kwazulu-Natal


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By Ashok Ramsarup :: Latest research has revealed that there’s a high prevalence of burnout, anxiety and depression among medical doctors in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Thejini Naidoo, who is a psychiatry registrar at the King Edward VIII Hospital in port city of Durban, has conducted the research in five public sector training hospitals in the province that formed part of her Masters of Medicine Degree in Psychiatry.

Dr Naidoo undertook the research programme in what she describes in improving the well-being of her colleagues in the medical profession. “The health of the medics is often neglected that needs to be prioritised,” she explained.

Dr Naidoo, who hails from Tongaat on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, indicated in the research that of the 150 participants, 88 screened positive for burnout as a result of emotional exhaustion or depersonalisation.  The research also found that one fifth of the group screened positive for anxiety and depressive symptoms.    

Previous research studies show that high rates of burnout existed among medical doctors in the country. A 2011 cross-sectional study in the Western Cape found that 100% of junior doctors experienced a high degree of burnout. In a 2013 research in the same province, burnout was reported in 76% of medical doctors. High levels of burnout were also reported among medical doctors in Gauteng and Free State.

Dr Naidoo’s study also found that younger medical doctors were more prone to developing burnout whilst older doctors were more likely to experience anxiety and depressive symptoms. “Some of the organisational factors that contributed to burnout, include the lack of clinical supervisor support and hospital resources.

“This has been particularly prevalent in resource constrained training hospitals in the country, Dr Naidoo stated. Her study clearly shows that burnout comprised of three components including emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and personal accomplishment.

Dr Naidoo, who is passionate about gyming and art, pointed out that exhaustion experienced consisted of long periods of emotional and physical fatigue, whilst depersonalisation referred to feelings of negativity and detachment from the job. She established that personal incompetence was found to be experienced by those medical doctors that had feelings of incompetence and a lack of achievement at work.

The research also honed in individual and organisational factors associated with burnout included work stress and anxiety, balancing work and personal life, long working hours, high workloads, poor working conditions, public system-related frustrations, insufficient vacation time, inadequate equipment, poor management support and low work satisfaction.

The research further stated that the HIV/Aids epidemic as well as the mass exodus of medical doctors from South Africa was also placing humongous challenge on those in the public sector.

Dr Naidoo had been vocal about the plight of the medical doctors, indicating it could have a negative impact on patient care as well as an increased risk for psychiatric co-morbidities such as suicide, anxiety and depression.

She recommended to the Department of Health to investigate the prevalence of burnout and implements evidence-based strategies. At the individual level, Dr Naidoo said: “Medical doctors should embrace mindfulness, stress management, exercise, communication skills training and participation in  programmes in promoting and building a community.

“At the organisational level, measures should be put in place to reduce working hours and the workload, improve institutional support and advocacy for peer support with a focus on junior doctors,” she added.

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