Beyond burnout in anaesthetists: Prevalence and assessment of current strategies and supports for mental wellbeing

Beyond burnout in anaesthetists: Prevalence and assessment of current strategies and supports for mental wellbeing


CIA: Dr Neil Paterson

Project summary

Anaesthetists conduct their work in a challenging and unpredictable environment where errors can result in patient harm or even death. It is a decade since the National Mental Health Survey of Doctors provided information on the mental well-being of doctors including anaesthetists in Australia. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to their expertise in airway management, demands on anaesthetists were exacerbated. In addition, the pandemic has resulted in surgery backlogs that imposed further ongoing workload pressures. These factors potentiate increased psychological distress and burnout, which is related to lower work performance, impaired decision-making, medical error, depression, sleep disorders, substance use, risk of suicide and clinical attrition. Costs to health organisations include increased absenteeism, decreased job performance and poor staff retention. This in turn has implications for efficient management of patient waiting lists and the elimination of substandard patient care.

Although the problem and its effect on the healthcare system is well-defined, there are currently two areas of concern. First, there is no recent assessment of the prevalence of wellbeing, psychological distress, burnout, and other mental health indicators of anaesthetists working in Australia and New Zealand. Second, evidence relating to acceptability and uptake of wellbeing supports and interventions is lacking. Healthcare services and representative bodies have ethical, legal and economic reasons for addressing well-being and it is important that they strive to provide a workplace that supports anaesthetists’ psychological health. To this end a mechanism for evaluating and monitoring both mental health and the uptake and acceptability of support programs is necessary.

In the proposed multi-centre study, we will assess wellbeing and mental health needs in anaesthetists and trainees across Australia and New Zealand and examine factors that facilitate or undermine staff access to existing support programs. We will also examine factors such as coping strategies, job satisfaction and professional identification with colleagues to understand the capacity of these psychological factors to support well-being. We will use a mixed methods design comprising quantitative (cross-sectional survey) and qualitative (interview) components.

For the survey component, anaesthetist staff will be asked to complete a brief online questionnaire that assesses levels of well-being and burnout, levels of stress and strategies for coping with stress, job satisfaction, turnover intention, identification with their colleagues, and knowledge of existing support structures and uptake of support programs. Demographic data including age, gender, time in the job, case load, and participation in public and private hospitals will be collected.

For the interview component, one-on-one semi-structured interviews with anaesthetist staff who work at hospitals across Australia will be conducted via video platforms (e.g., Teams/Zoom). We will probe issues such as burnout and psychological health, functioning in the workplace, self-care and coping strategies, knowledge and uptake of existing support measures, and barriers such as stigma and confidentiality concerns associated with accessing support measures.

This research has the potential to improve outcomes for anaesthetists, patients and health organisations. Results from this study can provide insights into the needs and resilience factors in Australian anaesthetists across the career lifespan and how mental health and wellbeing factors have changed over the past decade. We expect it will provide insight into the acceptability and uptake of support programs, along with facilitators and barriers to uptake. Findings may be used to optimise or redesign existing programs to better support Australia’s anaesthetic workforce.

Chief investigators

Dr Neil Paterson, Associate Professor Paul Lee-Archer, Dr Mark Trembath, Queensland Children’s Hospital;
Dr Laura Ferris, Associate Professor Niklas Steffens, The University of Queensland;
Dr Marie Avanis, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, NSW
Dr Maryann Turner, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.



The project was awarded A$69,750 funding through the ANZCA research grants program for 2024.   

Last updated 10:48 15.12.2023