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Burnout Leads to Premature Surgeon Retirement: A Nationwide Survey

Author(s): Nicole Cimbak, Allan Stolarski, Jennifer Moseley, Patrick O’Neal, Edward Whang, Gentian Kristo

Background: Retirement of surgeons has important workforce implications given the shortage of surgeons throughout the country. Our study was designed to evaluate factors that influence surgeon retirement decisions.

Material and methods: A paper-based survey regarding retirement decisions was mailed nationwide from April to June of 2018 to retired General, Colorectal, Vascular, and Cardiothoracic surgeons that are members of the American College of Surgeons.

Results:  A total of 2295 of 5282 surveys were completed (43.4% response rate). The mean age of respondents was 79.0 ± 0.8 years, their mean age of retirement was 63.9 ± 0.1 years, and their mean interval since retirement was 15.2 ± 0.9 years. The five most common reasons for retirement were advancing age, personal health, increased outside interference, burnout, and worsening malpractice environment. The most common reported health problems leading to retirement were musculoskeletal disorders. The percentage of reported burnout was significantly lower in academic surgeons (5.8%) vs. surgeons in private practice (10.5%); academic/private practice combination (10.0%); those employed by community hospital or health system (11.4%); and Veteran Affairs institution, military hospital, and Indian Health Service (13.8%). Burnout was the only factor associated with an earlier retirement age (61.2 ± 0.4 years vs. 65.8 ± 0.2 years in the absence of burnout). Results were comparable when stratified by surgical specialty.


Conclusion: Our survey brings awareness to potentially-modifiable factors influencing surgeon retirement, such as outside interference, occupational health problems, burnout, and worsening malpractice environment. Understanding why surgeons retire can help motivate healthcare organizations better manage their surgical workforce and prevent premature retirement.

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