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Intern to Attending: Assessing Stress Among Physicians

Stucky, Erin R. MD; Dresselhaus, Timothy R. MD, MPH; Dollarhide, Adrian MD; Shively, Martha PhD, RN; Maynard, Gregory MD; Jain, Sonia PhD; Wolfson, Tanya MA; Weinger, Matthew B. MD; Rutledge, Thomas PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181938aad
Well-Being

Purpose: Organizations have raised concerns regarding stress in the medical work environment and effects on health care worker performance. This study's objective was to assess workplace stress among interns, residents, and attending physicians using Ecological Momentary Assessment technology, the gold-standard method for real-time measurement of psychological characteristics.

Method: The authors deployed handheld computers with customized software to 185 physicians on the medicine and pediatric wards of four major teaching hospitals. The physicians contemporaneously recorded multiple dimensions of physician work (e.g., type of call day), emotional stress (e.g., worry, stress, fatigue), and perceived workload (e.g., patient volume). The authors performed descriptive statistics and t test and linear regression analyses.

Results: Participants completed 5,673 prompts during an 18-month period from 2004 to 2005. Parameters associated with higher emotional stress in linear regression models included male gender (t = −2.5, P = .01), total patient load (t = 4.2, P < .001), and sleep quality (t = −2.8, P = .006). Stress levels reported by attendings (t = −3.3, P = .001) were lower than levels reported by residents (t = −2.6, P = .009), and emotional stress levels of attendings and residents were both lower compared with interns.

Conclusions: On inpatient wards, after recent resident duty hours changes, physician trainees continue to show wide-ranging evidence of workplace stress and poor sleep quality. This is among the first studies of medical workplace stress in real time. These results can help residency programs target education in stress and sleep and readdress workload distribution by training level. Further research is needed to clarify behavioral factors underlying variability in housestaff stress responses.

Dr. Stucky is clinical professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of California San Diego, Rady Children's Hospital San Diego, San Diego, California.

Dr. Dresselhaus is clinical professor, Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California.

Dr. Dollarhide is associate clinical professor, Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California.

Dr. Shively is professor emeritus, School of Nursing, San Diego State University, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California.

Dr. Maynard is clinical professor, Division of Hospital Medicine, University of California San Diego, San Diego, California.

Dr. Jain is associate professor, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, University of California San Diego, San Diego, California.

Ms. Wolfson is principal statistician, Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California San Diego, San Diego, California.

Dr. Weinger is professor of anesthesiology, biomedical informatics, and medical education, Department of Anesthesiology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Memphis, Tennessee.

Dr. Rutledge is associate professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, San Diego, California.

Please see the end of this article for information about the authors.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Stucky, 3020 Children's Way MC 5064, San Diego, CA 92123; telephone: (858) 966-5841; fax: (858) 966-6728; e-mail: (estucky@rchsd.org).

© 2009 Association of American Medical Colleges