Rethinking stress

Stress. There's a good chance you are experiencing it in your life right now or know someone who is. It's a buzzword that's become so pervasive in our culture that we hardly give it a second thought.

However, U of L management professor Dr. Bob Boudreau's research is raising a new awareness of the topic by showing how stress can lead to severe burnout – a serious epidemic sweeping across the nation.

Through a recent survey, Boudreau found that an alarmingly high rate of four in 10 Canadians suffer from burnout, a long-term debilitating condition marked by emotional exhaustion, lack of accomplishment and depersonalization. In taking his research further, Boudreau discovered an even more startling find.

"We found that one out of two doctors experiences burnout," says Boudreau. "In all other occupations there is no evidence of differences in burnout rates – it doesn't matter whether you are a policeman, nurse, fireman, lawyer or farmer – the rates are more or less the same. But relative to other professions, physicians are by far the highest at risk."

We tend to think of doctors as healers, those we turn to in times of sickness. So it's a troubling realization to find that they may be the one group needing urgent care the most.

Boudreau attributes the high rate of physician burnout to many factors, not the least of which is the pressure that comes from being responsible for the well-being of hundreds of patients. Tie that to an overtaxed health-care system rife with shortages, plus the day-to-day pressures of running a busy practice, and it's the perfect prescription for professional exhaustion.

With plans to continue and expand his work on professional burnout, Boudreau hopes to better the working environments of not only physicians, but professionals across the board.

"Once we understand burnout, we will be in a better position to manage many of its related workplace issues such as increased job conflict, poor performance, absenteeism, lateness and poor health," says Boudreau.

"The strategy is to find cracks in each occupation we study and develop the tools people need to cope with their own professional situations. Hopefully, as we progress, we will create more positive work and life spaces."