National study of wellbeing of hospital doctors in Ireland finds 50% of doctors are emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed by work

There is a need to critically review the working conditions of hospital doctors in Ireland

New research on doctors' workplace well-being, led by Professor Blánaid Hayes, Immediate Past Dean of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, has been published in BMJ Open.

The study entitled Doctors don’t Do-little: A national cross-sectional study of workplace well-being of hospital doctors in Ireland found that hospital doctors across all grades in Ireland have low levels of work-life balance and high levels of work stress. Almost one-third of respondents were experiencing burn-out and 50% of doctors reported being emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed by work.

The study is the first national survey conducted on a cohort of hospital doctors working within the same health system in Ireland.

Hospital doctors in Ireland have higher levels of burn-out measures than their international peers

1,749 doctors completed workplace well-being questionnaires as part of this study. The 55% response rate is considered high in this population, where response rates tend to be low and are declining.

  • Burn-out was evident in just under 30% and was significantly associated with male sex, younger age, lower years of practice, lower desire to practise, lower work ability, higher ERI (Effort-Reward Imbalance) ratio and greater over-commitment.
  • 50% of doctors reported being emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed by work, which is higher than in hospital doctors from the UK, the USA and Australia.
  • 29% of respondents had insufficient work ability and there was no sex, age or grade difference. Work ability measures the degree to which individuals are able to cope physically and mentally with the demands of work.
  • 70.6% reported strong or very strong desire to practise medicine
  • When asked if their work situation left them enough time for their family/personal life, only one in five doctors felt this was the case (22.2%)
  • Occupational stress (ERI) was reported by four out of five respondents (82%), indicating that the perceived rewards for the group and especially for doctors in HST fall well short of the effort exerted.
  • While consultants reported highest levels of effort, rewards were also highest for this group. At the time of the survey, the majority of the consultants were employed on a contract which had been in existence since 1998, with a new, less favourable, contract introduced for new recruits in 2012, two years before this study.
  • Apart from the measures of work ability and over-commitment, there was no sex or age difference across any variable. However, ERI and burn-out were significantly lower in consultants than trainees.

You can read the full study here https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/3/e025433

There is a critical need to review the working conditions of hospital doctors in Ireland

Professor Blánaid Hayes, lead author on the paper, said, "These results give great cause for concern. 50% of doctors reported being emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed by work, which is higher than in hospital doctors from the UK, the USA and Australia. There is a need critically to review the working conditions of hospital doctors in Ireland.

"Surprisingly, in a milieu where evidence is the key driver of patient treatment, the evidence on the relationship between workplace psychosocial environment and employee health is paid little attention by those who fund and manage healthcare organisations. It is buried under the constant refrain of ‘putting the patient first’ with little regard for those who are instrumental in providing care.

"When work poses excessive demands with little control and support, its impact on both physical and mental health can be negative, leading to stress-related disorders, depression and other common mental health issues."

Professor Blánaid Hayes FRCPI

This study provides critical information on levels of burn-out following a period of substantial cutbacks in health expenditure and workforce depletion

Professor Mary Horgan, President, said, "This study provides critical information on levels of burn-out and other indices of workplace well-being in hospital doctors in Ireland following a period of substantial cutbacks in health expenditure and workforce depletion.

"The College is committed to supporting physician wellbeing. We will continue to pursue innovative approaches to support the health of doctors and raise awareness of the importance of caring for the care givers. We are grateful to all the doctors who took time to complete the survey and share with us their insight and experience.

"I would also like to thank the study’s authors Professor Blánaid Hayes, Occupational Health Department, Beaumont Hospital, Lucia Prihodova, Manager RCPI Research Department, Gillian Walsh, former manager RCPI Research Department, Frank Doyle, Department of Psychology, Division of Population and Health Sciences, RCSI, Sally Doherty, Department of Psychology, Division of Population and Health Sciences, RCSI, for their important contribution to the growing evidence base for physician wellbeing."

Information and support for doctors

If you are concerned about your wellbeing, there is advice and guidance on physician wellbeing for doctors at all stages of their careers on our website here.

Contact us

Yvonne McCahill

Press Officer, Communications Department

Tel: +353 1 8639 627 | Mobile 086 7723056

For general press enquiries or if you want to speak to a trusted medical expert, contact Yvonne in our Communications Department.