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    Plastic surgeons face high burnout rate

    A couple of years ago, a "toxic work environment" helped to push one plastic surgeon into a devastating spiral. "I developed irritability, anxiety, volatile mood," says C. Scott Hultman, M.D., MBA, professor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and professor of Surgery at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

    It's not unusual for physicians to develop this kind of burnout on the job. But plastic surgeons, like Dr. Hultman, are especially vulnerable for reasons that aren't entirely clear.

    "We’re at risk as a specialty," he warned during a keynote presentation on burnout held at Plastic Surgery The Meeting 2016 in Los Angeles. The joint session was held by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Council of Academic Plastic Surgeons.

    Indeed, a 2016 JAMA Surgery systematic review of 41 studies into surgeon burnout found that plastic surgeons had one of the lowest levels of job satisfaction among 16 specialties. 

    Only a third of plastic surgeons reported being satisfied on the job; the next lowest percentage (64%) was among vascular surgeons. Pediatric and endocrine surgeons had the highest levels of satisfaction, at 86% to 96% and 96%, respectively.

    There's other evidence that job woes can be devastating for plastic surgeons. Dr. Hultman spoke about his mentor John Bostwick III, M.D., director of Emory's Division of Plastic Surgery and chief of plastic surgery at Emory Clinic and Emory University Hospital. According to Dr. Hultman, Dr. Bostwick killed himself in 2001.

    "I completely lost my bearing," Dr. Hultman says. "We still don’t know what happened to John. He was under a lot of stress and probably experiencing his own form of burnout. It left me without any anchor for my professional career. That didn’t cause me to burn out, but I just became depressed."

    NEXT: Work-Life Balance

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga is a medical writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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