The Human Cost of Burnout and Errors in the Laboratory

James Hernandez, M.D.

James Hernandez, M.D., Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, and Medical Director and Chair of the Division of Laboratory Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale and Phoenix, authored an article in Clinical Laboratory News on burnout and errors in the laboratory.

According to Dr. Hernandez, burnout is a syndrome characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced effectiveness. A recent Medscape survey showed that while burnout among pathologists was lower compared to other physician specialists, there were alarming signs that demonstrated a discernible gender and generational gap. Women reported burnout more than men in almost all medical specialties. And burnout rates in pathologists 35 years of age or younger were equal to the rate of burnout among emergency medicine physicians, who have some of the highest rates of burnout among specialties.

Tait Shanafelt, M.D., and his colleagues have studied burnout and resiliency for decades. Previously at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Dr. Shanafelt is the first chief physician wellness officer to direct the newly established Stanford WellMD Center. He recommends both individual and system-wide remedies to prevent burnout and build resiliency. In particular, he points out that the quality of physician leadership has a dramatic effect on the rates of burnout among followers.

According to Dr. Shanafelt, problems in any of these seven domains can lead to exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency:

  1. Workload and job demands
  2. Efficiency and resources
  3. Meaning in work
  4. Culture and values
  5. Control and flexibility
  6. Social support and community at work
  7. Work-Life integration

In his article, Dr. Hernadez also discusses the importance of remaining resilient in a "VUCA world": one that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. According to Dr. Hernandez, it is especially important for laboratory leaders to set good examples of resiliency and to cultivate a resilient system of healthy working relationships.

"In the end, we must live mindfully in the present—neither preoccupied about the past nor tormented about future events that we cannot control," says Dr. Hernandez.

Kelley Luedke

Kelley Luedke is a Marketing Channel Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She is the principle editor and writer of Insights and leads social media and direct marketing strategy. Kelley has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2013. Outside of work, you can find Kelley running, traveling, playing with her kitty, and exploring new foods.