Intensive Care Medicine

, Volume 44, Issue 12, pp 2239–2241 | Cite as

Psychological burnout and critical care medicine: big threat, big opportunity

  • Laura HawryluckEmail author
  • Peter G. Brindley
Understanding the Disease
While you are likely proud to be a critical care medicine (CCM) practitioner, does work routinely leave you increasingly drained? Do you feel resentful about requests for “futile interventions” and unwilling to absorb others’ anger and grief? Has your job made you feel chronically disconnected, disenchanted and devalued? If so, then—like these two authors and many of your colleagues—you are at risk for burnout syndrome (BOS). Fortunately, this condition need not be terminal. While BOS often waxes and wanes, long-term resilience requires sustained effort at the individual, team and system level. This article aims to spur reflection, and offer putative solutions (Table  1). We also wish to normalize the conversation: BOS does not just affect “wimps”, and can no longer be ignored.
Table 1

Ten BOS questions to facilitate reflection and improvements

1. How can we normalize conversations about BOS and resilience?

2. Can you identify team members who are increasingly angry or increasingly...


  1. 1.
    Moss M, Good VS, Gozal D, Kleinpell R, Sessler CN (2016) An official Critical Care Societies Collaborative statement: burnout syndrome in critical care healthcare professionals: a call for action. Chest 150(1):17–26CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Brindley PG (2017) Psychological Burnout and the intensive care practitioner: a practical and candid review for those who care. J Intensive Care Soc 18(4):270–275CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Maslach Burnout Inventory from Mind Garden accessible for purchase at (see also a quick online resource for those interested in self testing at MindTools Checking yourself for burnout accessible for free at accessed December 12, 2017
  4. 4.
    Garcia TT, Garcia PC, Molon ME et al (2014) Prevalence of burnout in pediatric intensivists: an observational comparison with general pediatricians. Pediatr Crit Care Med 15(8):e347–e353CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Embriaco N, Azoulay E, Barrau K et al (2007) High level of burnoutin intensivists: prevalence and associated factors. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 175(7):686–692CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Beschoner P, Braun M, Schönfeldt-Lecuona C, Freudenmann RW, von Wietersheim J (2016) Gender aspects in female and male physicians: occupational and psychosocial stress. Bundesgesundheitsblatt Gesundheitsforschung Gesundheitsschutz 59(10):1343–1350. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Alexandrova-Karamanova A, Todorova I, Montgomery A, Panagopoulou E, Costa P, Baban A, Davas A, Milosevic M, Mijakoski D (2016) Burnout and health behaviors in health professionals from seven European countries. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 89(7):1059–1075. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Schwarzkopf D, Rüddel H, Thomas-Rüddel DO, Felfe J, Poidinger B, Matthäus-Krämer CT, Hartog CS, Bloos F (2017) Perceived nonbeneficial treatment of patients, burnout, and intention to leave the job among ICU nurses and junior and senior physicians. Crit Care Med 45(3):e265–e273CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hawryluck L (2017) Issues of vulnerability and equality: the emerging need for court evaluations of the fiduciary in high stakes EOL decisions. Health Law Can 37(4):86–95PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Blackwell T Orthodox Jewish family wants brain dead son’s death certificate rescinded because faith won’t accept he’s deceased National Post Nov 1, 2017 accessed December 3, 2017 at and Kerr J, Brampton family asking for more time for daughter declared brain dead the Toronto Star Oct 17, 2017 accessed December 3, 2017 at
  11. 11.
    Wu JC, Tung TH, Chen PY, Chen YL, Lin YW, Chen FL (2015) Determinants of workplace violence against clinical physicians in hospitals. J Occup Health 57(6):540–547. (Epub 2015 Sep 29) CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Fujita S, Ito S, Seto K, Kitazawa T, Matsumoto K, Hasegawa T (2012) Risk factors of workplace violence at hospitals in Japan. J Hosp Med 7(2):79–84. (Epub 2011 Nov 4) CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Jagsi R, Griffith KA, Jones R, Perumalswami CR, Ubel P, Stewart A (2016) Sexual harassment and discrimination experiences of academic medical faculty. JAMA 315(19):2120–2121CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Mehta S, Burns KEA, Machado FR, Fox-Robichaud AE, Cook DJ, Calfee CS et al (2017) Gender parity in critical care medicine. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 196(4):425–429. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Schernhammer ES, Colditz GA (2004) Suicide rates among physicians: a quantitative and gender assessment (meta-analysis). Am J Psychiatry 161(12):2295–2302CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature and ESICM 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Critical Care MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Physician Lead Critical Care Rapid Response TeamToronto Western HospitalTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Corporate Chair Acute Resuscitation CommitteeUniversity Health NetworkTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Critical Care MedicineUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  5. 5.AnesthesiologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  6. 6.Dosseter Ethics CentreUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  7. 7.Intensive Care MedicineUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  8. 8.Senior Travelling FellowIntensive Care Society UKLondonUK

Personalised recommendations