Surgeons are affected negatively when things go wrong. They may experience guilt, anxiety and reduced confidence following adverse events, which may lead to formal investigation and sanction. Medical errors have been linked with burnout, depression, suicidal ideation and reduced quality of life.
This research from Turner et al. explores the impact of adverse events on UK surgeons’ health and wellbeing. Surgeons completed an online survey that involved recalling an error-based or complication-based event and answering questions regarding health, wellbeing and support seeking.
Contrary to existing work, this study distinguishes error from complication, includes a measure of event severity and explores the impact of adverse events across a range of outcomes.
The extent to which surgeons feel negative following adverse events is striking: nearly half of participants reported becoming more anxious, 40% sleeping worse, a third struggling to cope with anger or irritability, and over 10% reporting depression. The frequency of post-traumatic stress symptomatology illustrates the profound impact of adverse events.
The study suggests surgeons do not feel prepared for the impact of adverse event. It also indicates failings in how surgeons are supported after an adverse event. Talking about the impact of an event is helpful, yet over 40% of participants talked to no-one about it. Despite high levels of mental health symptomology, participants reported very little engagement with formal support services. This may be because surgeons perceive barriers to talking about adverse events and surgeon-specific support programmes are lacking.
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