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Survey reveals over 40% of doctors feel burnt out

17 October 2018

Medical Protection survey of more than 500 South African medical members reveals that over 40% of doctors either agree or strongly agree that they feel burnt out.

Nearly 50% said they experience a heavier workload and struggle to achieve an appropriate work/life balance or that they have no work/life balance at all, and more than a third (34%) experience more stress and anxiety.

Dr Graham Howarth, Head of Medical Services, Africa at Medical Protection said:

“Being a doctor is not only physically and intellectually demanding, but also emotionally draining.

Doctors have to make difficult decisions daily, alongside fewer resources and rising patient expectations. The fact that so many are feeling burned out is very worrying.

“85% of the doctors surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that patient expectations have increased in the last five years, and nearly 60% told us they find it most challenging to manage unrealistic patient expectations. They are also practising in a more litigious society, all of which are impacting on doctors’ emotional health, and yet so few are seeking support – in some cases due to the perceived stigma attached to mental health issues.  

“Doctors help their patients with mental health problems but they often suffer alone. The experience can be isolating and can have a negative impact on professional confidence. Medical Protection urges colleagues of doctors to look out for signs of burnout or mental health problems and offer support, such as talking through issues or helping to balance their workload. We also urge healthcare organisations to take responsibility for the wellbeing of their doctors.

“It is important that doctors know that seeking help will not automatically lead to a referral to the HPCSA or put their careers at risk. Colleagues should provide support to those who may be struggling and in the interests of providing the best care to their patients; doctors must seek help as soon as they experience difficulties.”

A presentation on ‘Stress, burnout and resilience’ was given by Dr Caroline Lee, Anaesthetist in private practice and convenor of the Wellness in Anaesthesia Support Group, South African Society of Anaesthesiologists (SASA) at the Ethics for All event. Dr Lee provided some practical solutions on how doctors can take better care of themselves, including regular check-ups with their practitioner, delegation, hobbies outside of medicine, booking holidays and exercise.

The event took place in Durban, Pretoria and Cape Town in the first two weeks of October, where over 2,500 healthcare professionals attended.


Notes to editors

  1. In June 2018 MPS surveyed 545 doctors in South Africa

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About MPS

The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”) is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. MPS has been supporting healthcare professionals in South Africa for over 60 years and today we have close to 30,000 members across the country.

Membership provides access to expert advice and support together with the right to request indemnity for complaints or claims arising from professional practice.   

Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.

Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.

MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.

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