While a lot of attention has been given to the long work hours of residents and medical errors, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have found that distress, and not only fatigue, contributed to errors by doctors-in-training. Residents who suffered from burnout and depression could pose as much risk to patients as those doctors-in-training who were exhausted, regardless and independent of their level of fatigue.
In this week's "Doctor and Patient" column, I interview to Dr. Colin P. West, the lead author of that study, and write about a colleague who could neither admit to nor find support for the distress in his life. How can we address the high levels of distress in training and practice so that doctors don't burn out, lose their sense of empathy and make errors? How can we help individual doctors thrive?