What medicine can teach academia about preventing burnout

Kim and Faber in Nature:

Burnout — work-related stress resulting in emotional and physical exhaustion — remains an expected rite of passage for many professions. However, the medical community has begun to place more emphasis on reducing burnout — and science academia would do well to learn from it. Despite the differences between medical and scientific training, stress is a common denominator for students in both fields. For example, in a 2011 survey of graduate students at 26 major US universities, 37% of graduate students in the natural sciences and 41% in engineering or computer science reported experiencing “a bit more” or “a lot more” stress than they felt able to handle. Similarly, a 2010 cross-sectional study found that 52.8% of medical students at 7 US universities had experienced burnout1.

Graduate students must contend with juggling coursework and research, lack of external validation, perceived devaluation of their work by the public and anxiety over future job prospects. All of these stressors combine to create a toxic environment in which cynicism and pessimism can prevail. Many studies have shown that people who experience stress also experience decreased productivity2 and creativity3, compared with those who feel little or no stress — yet these two traits are key to being a successful scientist.

Graduate programmes can help students to combat burnout. We propose that institutions take the following steps:

1. Enable time away from the lab. In sectors such as the technology industry, flexible work policies have led to more-satisfied, more productive employees4,5. Although working from home or taking time off spontaneously is less feasible in medical and graduate training, some institutions have embraced trainee wellness, allowing students to take absences as needed.

More here.