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One in three doctors have suffered burnout, RCPI study finds

National Study of Wellbeing of Hospital Doctors in Ireland published by RCPI

The wellbeing of frontline hospital staff should be a top priority for hospital managers, policy makers and the health services, not least because it can impact on the quality and safety of patient care.

The National Study of Wellbeing of Hospital Doctors in Ireland, published 2 May 2017, shows that 1 in 3 doctors were found to have experienced burnout and up to 10% reported severe to extremely severe levels of depression, anxiety and stress. This occurs despite the finding that over 70% of doctors are strongly motivated to practise medicine.

The research study was led by Dr Blánaid Hayes, Dean of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. Her study, which was launched in 2014, surveyed hospital doctors in Ireland at trainee and consultant level across all specialties. It aimed to explore the topics of lifestyle behaviours, personal wellbeing and workplace wellbeing.

The findings were positive in some areas such as the very high number of doctors (over 70%) who expressed a strong desire to practise medicine and 8 in 10 reporting good or better overall health and general quality of life.

National Study of Wellbeing of Hospital Doctors in Ireland

Read the full text of National Study of Wellbeing of Hospital Doctors in Ireland published 2 May 2017

Key findings relating to the wellbeing of hospital doctors in Ireland

  • Over 70% of doctors are strongly motivated to practise medicine
  • 1 in 3 doctors were found to have experienced burnout and up to 10% reported severe to extremely severe levels of depression, anxiety and stress
  • On average doctors worked 57 hours a week and just 20% said they had enough time for family and personal life
  • Four out of 5 reported going to work at times when they were ill or injured
  • Four out of 5 doctors reported significant work stress and felt the effort put into their work exceeded the rewards gained. Most also had a tendency to overcommit to their work.
  • 80% reported less than optimal levels of physical activity
  • 1 in 10 drank alcohol to excess occasionally and 10% smoked
Doctor reading patient notes.

This study addresses a gap in the knowledge-base on the health and wellbeing of hospital doctors

Commenting on her research, Dr Hayes said that she sees many frontline health professionals at her practice who require care and support. “This study has addressed a gap in the knowledge-base on the health and wellbeing of hospital doctors in this country, including the challenges posed by stress and mental ill health.

“As an occupational physician, I know first-hand that this is a problem because I see it in my practice and I hear it from my colleagues in other hospitals too. Frontline healthcare workers and clinicians are presenting with mood disorders and stress-related conditions which are at least in part related to working conditions including staff shortages.”

As an occupational physician, I know first-hand that this is a problem because I see it in my practice and I hear it from my colleagues in other hospitals too.

Dr Blánaid Hayes

Dean of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, RCPI

Stresses and strains placed on our current healthcare system are taking a toll on frontline staff

Prof Frank Murray, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland said the study raised many concerns about the health and wellbeing of those providing care to patients and must be addressed by hospital managers, policymakers and health service employers.

“Though the life of a doctor can be very rewarding and we are privileged to be able to improve people’s health, we face challenges every day.  

“This research highlights how the stresses and strains placed on our current healthcare system are taking a toll on the frontline staff, which is a serious issue for each of them, but also can impact on the quality and safety of patient care as well as their personal and family life. It is deeply concerning that, according to this study, one in three doctors is suffering from burnout.”

“These findings make it imperative that action is taken to support the health and wellbeing of doctors, which will in turn, directly improve patient safety and outcomes,” Prof Murray said.

Trainees reviewing notes.

Key recommendations in the study

The study contains clear recommendations on how to implement the necessary support structures for frontline hospital staff. These recommendations are:

  • The welfare of staff must be a priority for hospital management, policy makers and the health service
  • Contractual changes for doctors must be reviewed to help to address the current recruitment crisis
  • Hospital management must pay attention to the evidence on the links between psychosocial work stressors and psychological health and to use it to plan for change
  • The medical training bodies need to begin to address the educational and training deficits highlighted in this study, particularly those relating to self-stigma and mental health
  • Doctors must care for themselves and for each other
  • Hospital doctors must be embedded into a clear management structure to support and facilitate them in caring for themselves, for each other and for patients

As doctors we have a responsibility to ourselves, our patients and the healthcare system to take good care of our health and wellbeing – both mental and physical.

Professor Frank Murray

President, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

About this study

This study is a collaborative project governed by a multi-stakeholder steering group that includes representatives from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, the College of Anaesthetists of Ireland, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, the Irish College of Ophthalmologists and Dublin City University (DCU) 

Co-authors were Dr Lucia Prihodova and Ms Gillian Walsh, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

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