American Surgeons in Crisis: Implications for Healthcare






 

A new study finds that more than half of surgeons are experiencing work-home conflicts that threaten their personal and professional wellbeing.


 

AMERICAN SURGEONS IN CRISIS:  IMPLICATIONS FOR HEALTHCARE

As I have discussed in previous columns (The Silent Epidemic of Surgeon Burnout and DepressionEpidemic of Alcohol Abuse Among Surgeons), there are quiet and evolving, and disturbing, developments within the community of American surgeons, and these developments may portend of significant potential future problems for surgeons, and for patients who require surgical care.  Now, a newly published research study, which appears in the current issue of the Archives of Surgery, further suggests that the epidemic of surgeon burnout and depression is indeed real, and has serious potential implications for both surgeons and their patients.

In this study, 7,197 active surgeons were surveyed, electronically, by the American College of Surgeons, using questions from validated surveys that assess for career burnout, depression, quality of life, alcohol use, and other measures of satisfaction with both personal and professional life attributes.

When asked if they had experienced any significant conflicts between their “work lives” and their “home lives” within the previous three weeks, an astounding 53 percent of the queried surgeons replied, “Yes.”  Thus, more than half of all surgeons who participated in this confidential survey reported substantial and distressing conflicts between their professional lives and their home lives within the preceding three weeks.

When the study’s authors analyzed the personal and professional factors that were most closely associated with “work-home conflicts,” and with both personal and professional dissatisfaction, a clearer picture emerged.  For example, the number of hours worked per week, having children, the surgeon’s gender, and the type of surgical practice were all closely linked with work-home conflicts, and with lower levels of personal and professional satisfaction.  For example, surgeons who practiced at Veterans Administration hospitals were 91 percent more likely to report work-home conflicts when compared to surgeons in private practice, while surgeons who practiced at an academic medical center were 19 percent more likely to report such conflicts when compared to private practice surgeons.  Not surprisingly, having children at home was associated with a 65 percent greater likelihood of work-home conflict when compared to surgeons without children at home.  Working more hours per week and being younger were also factors associated with a higher likelihood of work-home conflict, as was being a female surgeon (i.e., when compared to male surgeons).  Surgeon specialty was also significantly linked to work-home conflicts and overall lower satisfaction levels, with broadly practicing general surgeons being twice as likely to report work-home conflicts as surgeons in other specialties (e.g., breast surgeons, heart surgeons, neurosurgeons, and other subspecialist surgeons).

The high level of work-home conflicts identified among surgeons is an issue of great concern to all of us, as such conflicts were significantly associated with career burnout, exhaustion, decreased quality of life, depression, relationship difficulties, alcohol abuse, and overall career dissatisfaction by scientifically validated surveys.  Surgeons reporting recent work-home conflicts were also substantially less likely to recommend surgery as a career option to their children.

In addition to higher levels of burnout, depression, alcohol abuse, relationship difficulties, and career dissatisfaction, surgeons who reported recent work-home conflicts were also 77 percent more likely to be planning to reduce their clinical work hours, and71 percent more likely to be planning to leave their surgical practices for reasons other than planned retirement.

At a time when the demand for some types of surgical care is already outstripping the supply of experienced, competent surgeons in many areas of the country, the findings of this study are cause for considerable concern.  For example, looking into the near future, our population is aging, and many acute and chronic diseases that require surgical treatment are more common in elderly patients.  Therefore, there is real concern that an increasingly burned-out surgeon workforce, and a declining interest in the more challenging surgical specialties (like general surgery) by today’s medical students, will someday soon leave the United States with an inadequate number of experienced surgeons to meet our nation’s healthcare needs.

All of the above noted adverse factors within the American surgeon community, once again, raise the concern that adequate levels of surgical care may not be available in the not too distant future if significant changes in surgical training and surgical practice are not considered and implemented, particularly in the workhorse specialty of general surgery.  The surgical community has been, admittedly, slow to appreciate or embrace generational changes in perceptions about work-life balance, and has only grudgingly (and recently) acquiesced to external pressures to treat its surgeons-in-training in a more considerate and supportive manner, compared to the conditions that surgery interns and residents toiled under during my era of training, as well as previous generations of surgical trainees.  (When I was a surgical intern, in the late 1980s, there were no limitations on the number of hours that interns and residents were expected to work in the hospital, including the number of nights spent on call for emergencies within the hospital, and it was not uncommon for us to spend 100 to 120 hours inside the hospital each and every week.)  Regardless of how more senior surgeons feel about it, it must be acknowledged that the current generation of medical students and young surgeons, both male and female, are much more concerned about work-life balance, and overall quality of life issues, than was typical for my generation of surgeons.

On a brighter note, the American College of Surgeons’ sponsorship of this research study, and others like it, suggests that the older generation of surgeons who currently serve as senior leaders and mentors for young surgeons and surgical trainees may, finally, be coming to grips with the rather dramatic shift in attitudes and priorities among their young charges. Hopefully, it is not too late to make meaningful structural changes in surgical training and surgical practice conditions before there are widespread adverse public health consequences to the ongoing crisis among the community of surgeons in the United States….

 

A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race is now available in both printed and digital formats from all major bookstores.  Get your copy now, and begin living an evidence-based cancer prevention lifestyle!


Dr. Wascher’s latest video:

Dark as Night, Part 1


Dark as Night, Part 1

Dark as Night, Part 1


At this time, more than 8 percent of Americans are unemployed.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is now more than 12 percent.  A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers.  If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.


For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.




Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


 

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


 

I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (More than 1.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious people who visited Weekly Health Update in 2011!)  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 





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Chronic Anxiety and Depression Significantly Increase the Risk of Early Death




 

A large new study suggests that chronic anxiety and depression are associated with a higher risk of premature death than was previously appreciated.


 

 

CHRONIC ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE THE RISK OF EARLY DEATH

As I discuss in my bestselling book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, most previous research studies have suggested only rather weak links between chronic stress and cancer risk, although there is some data linking chronic depression with breast cancer risk.  However, in view of the increasing number of people around the world who are currently experiencing chronic anxiety and depression during these economically and geopolitically troubled times, the findings of a new public health study that psychological distress significantly increases the risk of premature death from serious illnesses, including cancer, is concerning.  This new study appears in the current issue of the British Medical Journal.

Altogether, 68,222 adults in Great Britain were followed for an average of more than 8 years within the prospectively conducted Health Survey for England study.  All of these study participants were clinically free of serious physical illness when they first joined this very large public health study.  All of the participants in this study were assessed for psychological stress using a validated assessment questionnaire, which was administered in their homes by research staff.  Subsequently, the incidence of serious physical illnesses during the course of this study was then correlated with the degree of measured psychological distress.  The rather dramatic findings of this large prospective public health study illustrate the magnitude of the impact of chronic, severe stress on our bodies, including the risk of premature death due to stress-associated physical illnesses.

After adjusting for preexisting serious physical illnesses, lifestyle-associated risk factors for serious illnesses, and socioeconomic factors known to be linked to chronic, serious illnesses, this study still identified a highly significant increase in the risk of premature death associated with the extent of psychological distress among volunteers in this very large study.  When the “psychological distress score” was compared with death rates, having a score of 1 to 3 (compared to a score of “0,” which reflects no evidence of psychological distress) was associated with a 20 percent increase in the risk of premature death.  A psychological stress score of 4 to 6 was associated with a 43 percent increase in the risk of early death, while a distress score of 7 to 12 was associated with a whopping 94 percent increase in the risk of premature death when compared to study volunteers who were without evidence of any significant psychological distress!

Upon further analysis, death due to cardiovascular disease and other non-cancer causes increased significantly, and proportionally, with each increase in the psychological distress score.  Cancer-associated deaths also increased with rising psychological distress scores, although this association was only observed among volunteers with significantly elevated distress scores.  However, for non-cancer causes of death, the risk of premature death was significantly elevated with evenmild increases in psychological distress.

The potential impact of this study’s findings are highly significant, as they not only reveal a “dose-dependent” relationship between stress levels and the risk of premature death from serious physical illnesses, but the sheer magnitude of the impact of high levels of chronic anxiety and depression on the risk of premature death is much higher, potentially, than has been observed in previous and much smaller studies.

Although this study was not designed to identify the biological mechanisms whereby prolonged periods of increased psychological distress lead to early death, numerous prior studies have shown that chronic depression and anxiety can directly activate an inflammatory response in humans which, in turn, is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, infection, and cancer, as well as other chronic, serious illnesses.  It is also well known that chronic anxiety and chronic depression increase the likelihood of unhealthy behaviors that have also been linked to serious, chronic illnesses, including smoking, excess alcohol or other drug intake, unhealthy diets, and lack of exercise, in addition to other unhealthy behaviors.  What is especially unique about this new study (other than its sheer size), however, is that the researchers were able to identify and adjust for preexisting unhealthy behaviors among the study’s volunteers when they analyzed the study’s data, which increases the likelihood that the adverse effects of chronic anxiety and depression on the risk of premature death observed in this research study are actually a direct result of psychological distress rather than unhealthy lifestyle choices.

If you are experiencing high levels of chronic stress, and if you are frequently anxious or depressed, then please seek help from your personal physician or a mental health professional.  If you are thinking of harming yourself, or someone else, then please seek immediate help.  These are very trying times for many people, and the ongoing worldwide challenges that have provoked such high levels of stress do not appear likely to disappear any time soon.  Knowing that so many other people around the world are also feeling worried and chronically stressed can make each of us feel less alone in our distress.  However, sometimes the awareness that others are experiencing similar levels of distress is, by itself, not enough to ease our anxiety or depression.  So, if you are struggling with anxiety or depression, and especially if you are feeling alone and isolated at the same time, then please seek the help and support of others.  In the vast majority of cases, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness will eventually pass when you get help and support during dark times in your life.


 

For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.




Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


 

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


 

I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (More than 1.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious people who visited Weekly Health Update in 2011!)  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 




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Epidemic of Alcohol Abuse Among Surgeons





A new study indicates that chronic alcohol abuse among surgeons is far more common than among the general population.


 

 

EPIDEMIC OF ALCOHOL ABUSE AMONG SURGEONS

In a previous column (Surgeon Performance and Alcohol), I reviewed a clinical research study that revealed just how significantly alcohol intake degrades surgical skills among surgeons, even well into the day following alcohol intake.  In another recent column, I examined a study that revealed a disturbingly high rate of burnout and depression among American surgeons (Surgeon Burnout and Depression).  This week, I will present a newly published clinical study that, once again, raises serious concerns about the health and wellbeing of many surgeons in the United States.

In a study that appears in the current issue of the Archives of Surgery, more than 7,000 surgeons in the United States agreed to participate in a confidential assessment of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence among members of the American College of Surgeons.  Validated surveys and tests were administered to these surgeon-volunteers, and the resulting data was analyzed.

Based upon the results of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, 15 percent of the responding surgeons, overall, were identified as meeting the criteria for either chronic alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.  Further evaluation of the data collected in this study revealed that 14 percent of the participating male surgeons met the criteria for chronic abuse of alcohol or alcohol dependency, while 26 percent of the corresponding female surgeons met these same worrisome criteria.  Moreover, surgeons who reported having committed a major medical or surgical error within the previous 3 months were 45 percent more likely to abuse alcohol, or to be dependent upon alcohol, when compared to surgeons who did not report any recent errors.  Similarly, surgeons who reported feeling burned out in their professional lives were 25 percent more likely to be problem drinkers when compared to surgeons who did not report professional burnout.  Finally, surgeons who reported symptoms consistent with depression were nearly 50 percent more likely to abuse alcohol than surgeons who did not report feeling depressed.

Interestingly, surgeons were less likely to have alcohol abuse and dependency problems if they were older, male, or had children.  (Approximately 11 percent of adult males in the general population are thought to have chronic alcohol abuse problems, while only about 5 percent of adult females in the general population appear to abuse alcohol on a regular basis.)

The findings of this study, once again, indicate a disturbingly high rate of substance abuse among American surgeons; and this is the first study to show that female surgeons, unlike women in the general population, are twice as likely as their male counterparts to regularly abuse alcohol.  Taken together with previous studies showing very high rates of depression and career burnout among surgeons in the United States, the findings of this latest study are rather worrisome.  (Previous studies have also linked an increased likelihood of medical and surgical errors to surgeons who are depressed, and who abuse alcohol and other drugs.)

I should also note that only 29 percent of the surgeons who were contacted agreed to participate in this confidential study.  Because this participation rate is much lower than what is typically seen in most survey-based research studies, it raises the important question as to whether or not the rate of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency might actually be considerably higher among surgeons, in general, than what is reflected in this study.  Indeed, most statistics experts believe that a very common reason for nonparticipation in survey-based studies is a reluctance to divulge negative information about oneself.  Moreover, even people who elect to participate in survey-based studies often “fudge” their responses in ways that tend to underestimate their bad habits and other self-perceived shortcomings.  Therefore, it is entirely possible that the incidence of chronic alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency among surgeons may be even higher than what was reported in this study….

 

As I have observed in previous columns, surgeons who abuse alcohol, or other drugs, are more likely to be associated with medical errors and worse patient outcomes.  However, the stigma of reporting oneself as having an alcohol, or other drug, problem is so great in the medical profession that impaired surgeons (as with other physicians) are generally extremely reluctant to admit that they have an alcohol or drug problem.  Most medical boards still require physicians to indicate whether or not they have a history of drug or alcohol abuse on licensure applications, and the medical profession, in general, still seems to be in a state of denial regarding the unusually high incidence of drug and alcohol abuse among physicians when compared to the general public.  It also goes without saying that the potential consequences of being operated upon by an impaired surgeon can be catastrophic to both patients and their loved ones, and, therefore, the still prevailing “head in the sand” approach to identifying, and rehabilitating, impaired physicians would not appear to serve the public interest very well, in my view.

 

While the vast majority of surgeons are passionately devoted to providing the best possible care to their patients, and would therefore not engage in personal behaviors that might potentially endanger their patients, it is becoming increasingly clear that a sizable percentage of surgeons in the United States are seriously impaired by burnout, depression and other mental health illnesses, and by alcohol and drug abuse.  Therefore, a better system of screening out surgical trainees who are predisposed to these serious health problems should be considered, while, at the same time, medical authorities at the state and federal levels should make it easier, and less threatening, for currently impaired physicians and surgeons to reach out for help without fearing that they will be punished or professionally sanctioned as a result.  I, therefore, applaud the American College of Surgeons for sponsoring and publishing this important study as a preliminary step forward in this direction.


 

For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.


Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


For a lighthearted perspective on Dr. Wascher, please click on the following YouTube link:

Texas Blues Jam


I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (More than 1.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious people who visited Weekly Health Update in 2011!)  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 








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Physicians and Mental Illness

Welcome to Weekly Health Update




New research confirms that physicians frequently suffer from mental illness, and are more reluctant than non-physicians to seek help.



PHYSICIANS AND MENTAL ILLNESS

While physicians are less likely than the general population to die from heart disease or cancer, we doctors are significantly more likely to die from suicide than our lay brothers and sisters.  Indeed, a very troubling statistic is that suicide is the second most common cause of death among medical students (accidents are the number one cause of death).

Multiple studies have shown that physicians are at greater risk of developing significant mental health problems when compared to the general population, including depression and bipolar disorder.  Physicians also have higher rates of alcoholism, and other forms of substance abuse, when compared to the general public.  Although the potential reasons behind this higher incidence of mental illness among physicians continue to be debated, most experts agree that doctors with mental health problems are notoriously reluctant to seek help.  They often do not recognize that they are ill, in the first place; and when they do become aware that they are not well, they are less likely than non-physicians to seek professional help.  Moreover, there are still tremendous stigmas associated with mental illness among health care professionals, causing many impaired physicians to avoid reaching out for help.  As if these adverse factors that discourage physicians from seeking help are not already bad enough, most state medical boards require physicians to disclose whether or not they have ever been diagnosed or treated for a mental illness (or substance abuse) as a precondition for initial licensure or renewal of an existing medical license.  (In many cases, disclosing a prior or current history of mental illness, even if the physician is receiving appropriate treatment, can result in very negative professional and financial consequences for physicians who disclose their history of depression or other mental health problems.)

 

 

In view of these disturbing statistics regarding physicians and mental illness, I find the results of a newly published clinical research study to be quite revealing (and disturbing).  In this study, 108 physicians were asked to confidentially complete a 56-item questionnaire that assessed their distress levels and their willingness to accept various forms of assistance for their feelings of severe distress.  This study appears in the current issue of the Archives of Surgery.

Within the preceding year, fully 79 percent of the surveyed physicians had experienced either a serious adverse patient event or a traumatic personal event that left them feeling very distressed.

When asked about their willingness to seek support or assistance regarding stressful issues in their lives, 72 percent of the doctors indicated that they would be willing to seek help for legal problems, while 67 percent would do so after being involved in a serious medical error.  Another 67 percent of the physicians were willing to seek help for substance abuse issues, while 62 percent were open to seeking medical help for physical illness.  Tellingly, only half (50 percent) of the physicians indicated that they would seek help for mental illness, and an equally small number also indicated that they would be open to assistance regarding serious interpersonal conflicts at work.

When asked about barriers to seeking help, 89 percent of the doctors indicated that they did not have time to get help with the causes of their distress, while 69 percent also responded that they were either uncertain about how to get help or that they had experienced difficulty in obtaining assistance.  A total of 68 percent of the physicians also cited lack of confidentiality, a potentially negative impact on their career, and the stigma associated with seeking help as barriers.

Regarding the most likely sources of support that they would be willing to seek, 88 percent expressed a preference for their physician colleagues, while only 48 percent were willing to be seen by mental health professionals, and only 29 percent were open to participating in employee assistance programs.

 

 

The findings of this study are hardly surprising.   The prevalence of major distress and mental health issues among physicians continues to be very high, relative to the general population.  At the same time, only half of the physicians participating in this study indicated a willingness to seek help for mental health problems.  Similarly, only half of these doctors would be willing to seek help for serious interpersonal difficulties (a common marker for certain psychological and personality disorders) in the workplace.  Among the most often cited reasons for not seeking help were “lack of time” and uncertainty about how to obtain help.  Additionally, the physicians who participated in this confidential study expressed serious concerns regarding confidentiality, the potential for negative career impact, and the perceived stigma associated with asking for help for mental health issues.

 

 

From my own experience as a physician over the past 23 years, I can honestly say that these disturbing statistics and findings regarding physician stress, distress, and mental health problems are, if anything, most likely understated.  Within the medical profession, it is no secret that the true incidence of depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, interpersonal strife, marital duress, domestic abuse, and divorce is very high among physicians, in comparison to the general population.  Ironically, and unfortunately, however, as bad as the stigma associated with mental illness is in the general public, it is even more severe within the medical profession.

Over the years, I have known numerous physicians with various forms of mental illness and personality disorders, and I cannot recall a single one of them ever voluntarily reaching out to mental health professionals for help.  Sadly, in view of the strong aversion on the part of physicians with mental illness towards seeking help from mental health professionals,  proactive and progressive steps to eliminate the perceived stigma of mental health problems within the medical profession, as well as removing the potentially punitive sanctions that many physicians would otherwise be subjected to if they sought professional help, will be necessary before troubled or impaired physicians can begin to feel free to seek help and support for the problems that torment them.


For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my new book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-Million,Vroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

On Thanksgiving Day, 2010, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books! On Christmas Day, 2010, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list!


Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


For a different perspective on Dr. Wascher, please click on the following YouTube link:

Texas Blues Jam


I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people, from around the world, who visit this premier global health information website every month. (More than 1.2 million health-conscious people visited Weekly Health Update in 2010!) As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 




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Job and Workplace Stress

 

Welcome to Weekly Health Update



“A critical weekly review of important new research findings for health-conscious readers”


JOB AND WORKPLACE STRESS

 

The global economy remains in the doldrums, unemployment remains at historically high levels around much of the world, and many people are feeling stressed in both their professional and personal lives.  In today’s highly competitive job market, many employees are feeling increasingly vulnerable.  There is also the perception among many workers that the poor job market has given employers the upper hand when it comes to the workplace environment.  Employees are working longer hours (and often without traditional overtime pay, and the other economic incentives of the pre-recession era), taking more work home with them, and in general, are feeling a great deal more stress and insecurity than they experienced before the economy took a nose-dive in 2008.

Increased levels of chronic stress have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, depression, obesity, increased drug use (including tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs), domestic abuse, interpersonal conflicts (at home and at work), and some cancers.  With no end in sight to this second-worst economic downturn in modern history, the odds remain relatively high that many employees will continue to face increased demands in the workplace, increased difficulty in finding a reasonable work-home life balance, and will continue to feel vulnerable and anxious about the stability of their jobs.  Many employers recognize that treating their employees fairly, and helping them to feel secure and appreciated in their jobs, is a “win-win” for everyone.  Employees who are treated fairly, and who come to work each day knowing that their workplace environment is both supportive and free of unnecessary strife, are more efficient and more productive, and tend to take fewer days of sick leave.  On the other hand, employees who feel that they are not being treated fairly, or that they are being taken advantage of, or that their jobs are at risk for reasons other than their performance, are less productive, more prone to interpersonal conflicts, and take more days of sick leave than employees who enjoy a healthy workplace climate.  While some employers may see the current economic downturn as an opportunity to take advantage of their employees, and to exploit and mistreat their employees at a time when many workers already feel insecure and vulnerable, most employers understand that when their employees look forward to coming to work in a healthy, supportive, and fair workplace climate, both employer and employees are more likely to thrive.

 

 

Two newly published public health studies, which appear in the current issue of the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, offer both employees and employers important insights into creating a healthier, more productive, and more collegial work environment. 

 

The first study was a long-term longitudinal, prospective occupational health study of 326 men and 338 women who originally enrolled in this research study in 1980 (while between the ages of 9 and 18 years).  These children and adolescents were then followed for an impressive 27 years, until 2007.  This study found that the now adult workers who had engaged in frequent leisure-time exercise, and effort-intensive sports, during childhood and adolescence were significantly less likely to complain of chronic workplace stress after they reached adulthood (i.e., when compared to employees who had rarely engaged in exercise or sports during their youth).  Interestingly, after being tested for cardiovascular fitness during adulthood, this study found that a high level of physical fitness in adulthood only partially explained the apparent benefit of increased physical activity during late childhood and adolescence on perceived workplace stress.   In addition to engaging in regular exercise and sports, having a “Type A” personality also appeared to be predictive of less workplace-associated stress.  (People with “Type A” personality traits are highly goal-oriented, performance-oriented, “take charge” people, as opposed to people with so-called “Type B” traits.  “Type B” people tend to feel more comfortable in delegating tasks, are less confrontational than Type A” folks, and also do not feel the sense of task-oriented urgency that their “Type A” peers constantly experience.)

While we probably cannot change our basic personality type, we can all increase our levels of physical activity, starting in childhood and continuing through adulthood, as a means of coping with the increased levels of chronic stress that many of us are feeling these days.  (Importantly, there are many clinical research studies that have demonstrated a strong correlation between regular exercise and a decrease in the incidence of stress-related physical and mental illnesses.)

 

 

The findings of the second occupational health study should serve as a wake-up call to those employers that take advantage of hard economic times to exploit their workers, as well as those employers that permit an unhealthy or unfair work environment to persist.  In this study, 2,763 randomly selected employees from the general population were interviewed and evaluated with respect to their workplace environment and their satisfaction with their jobs.  A second group of 3,044 employees who appeared on their companies’ sick lists for more than 14 days, over a 2 month period, were similarly evaluated.

Among the women employees, a perceived unhealthy or unfair workplace environment was associated with an 80 percent increase in the likelihood that these female employees would end up on chronic sick lists.  The impact of a toxic workplace environment on the male employees was even more profound, as men who complained of an unhealthy or unfair workplace climate were 174 percent more likely to chronically call in sick when compared to the men who were generally satisfied with their workplace environment and their jobs.  (Interestingly, increased workload alone, in the absence of an unhealthy workplace environment, increased the risk of absenteeism among women, but not among men.)

 

 

In summary, these are tough times for many, many people.  Most employers treat their employees in a fair and ethical manner, knowing that happy and secure employees are more efficient, more productive, more reliable, easier to get along with, and less likely to take excessive sick leave.  Unfortunately, there are also employers who, sensing the insecurity of their employees during difficult economic times, exploit their employees through excessive and unfair workloads, and through their permissiveness in allowing unhealthy or unfair workplace environments to persist.  For employees who must navigate these uncertain times, regular and frequent exercise can be a very important coping mechanism, and can pay important dividends in both one’s personal and professional lives (including a reduction in the risk of stress-related physical and mental ailments).  For the minority of employers who take advantage of their anxious employees, or who turn a blind eye towards unhealthy or unfair workplace environments, such employers not only betray their responsibilities to their employees (and their responsibilities to society, in general), but their unethical treatment of their employees may also be detrimental to the overall success of these organizations, as disaffected employees often respond to such treatment with passive-aggressive work-avoidance behaviors, increased absenteeism, and in some cases, with litigation. 

In time, we will emerge from this terrible global recession.  When that happens, companies that have treated their employees fairly, and according to high ethical standards, during the worst of times will have an inherent advantage over those companies that took the low road.  High levels of productivity, excellent employee morale and loyalty, and low levels of absenteeism and workforce turnover, will improve the competitiveness, stability, and productivity of the companies that treated their employees well during tough economic times (while the companies that did not treat their employees well are more likely to face increased employee turnover as the economy improves, as their disenfranchised employees seek better opportunities within an improving employment marketplace). 

  

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO OUR MANY HEALTH-CONSCIOUS

WEEKLY HEALTH UPDATE” READERS AROUND THE WORLD!

 

PEACE, LOVE, AND GOOD HEALTH TO ALL OF YOU!

 

 

For a complete discussion of the role of stress on cancer risk, and important evidence-based approaches to cancer prevention (including exercise), order your copy of my new book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, now!  For the price of a cheeseburger, fries, and a shake, you can purchase this landmark new book, in both paperback and e-book formats, and begin living an evidence-based cancer prevention lifestyle today!

  

Click the following link to join Dr. Wascher on Facebook

 








GIVE  THE  GIFT  OF  HEALTH  THIS  HOLIDAY  SEASON!  For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my new book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Vroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores! 

On Thanksgiving Day, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com Top 100 Bestseller’s List for Kindle e-books!




Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity



Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, a professor of surgery, a cancer researcher, an oncology consultant, and a widely published author



For a different perspective on Dr. Wascher, please click on the following YouTube link: 

Texas Blues Jam



I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people, from around the world, who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (As of 9/16/2010, more than 1,000,000 health-conscious people have logged onto Weekly Health Update so far this year!)  As always, I enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 

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