Flashback to 2001 or 2002: Our program director at Brown announces that we are going to meet in the fancy dining room in the new wing of our hospital for a resident retreat. One or two days later, we all had a free meal and shared war stories from the hospital with the guidance of our faculty.
Today: I can vaguely remember only the stuffed chicken from this first “retreat.” And, I can barely remember the war stories. Sure, it was nice getting a break from the regular rig-a-ma-roll of hospital activities. But, did it reduce resident burnout and exhaustion? Moreover, did it create a lasting memorable experience that changed me?
Well, the recent article in the Radiology Business Journal claims that resident retreats may directly reduce burnout. And, this conclusion was explicitly based on another piece which issued questionnaires to residents. (You can click on it at Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology here).
So, based on some of the “data,” as well as my experience, I figured I would attempt to tease out whether resident retreats do mitigate resident fatigue. And, we will look into whether this article is anything more than clickbait. Also, is the resident retreat is just another way to get around the real issues that cause residents to be miserable during their residency without directly addressing them? We don’t want to give this article and the Brigham program (as much as I like it) an easy pass!
The Main Conclusion Of The Study: Improved Camaraderie
Yes, many residents bog themselves down in residency and lose the bigger picture. And a day or two of a retreat can reset your general mindset and outlook. However, giving residents an open-ended questionnaire and expecting the answers to reveal some long term decrease in burnout is a big leap of faith. I mean, sure, you will get positive opinions expressed because it is a day off from work. Who doesn’t want a day off to relieve the mundane parts of your job? I would be happy to answer any question positively after a day or two off with a full belly and a few good conversations with my colleagues. So, I’m not sure if this format truly addresses whether the resident program is mitigating burnout. Sounds nice in theory, though!
What Is Causing Burnout- Does The Retreat Solve That?
Well, take a look at another article from the Radiology Business Journal. You will see a whole list of factors that cause resident burnout. In fact, they list the following: “counterproductive administrative tasks such as procedure logs and training modules, continuous and long clinical shifts, demanding call schedules, technical issues and lack of feedback and social interactions.” And, of course (based on my current resident experiences), I would like to add student loans/high debt to the equation.
So, what exactly does this retreat address then? Merely just one of the myriad factors that cause burnout- lack of social interactions. Is this enough to tip the overall ship to reduce burnout significantly? I’m not so sure about that. And does it deflect from solving most of the other real issues that cause exhaustion in a radiology residency program? Probably! If you think about it, of all the causes of burnout, this residency neglected all the others in the spirit of making the residents temporarily happy by having a day or two of social interaction.
Bottom Line About Resident Retreats
It’s good PR to create a retreat to provide the residents with an opportunity to fraternize with their colleagues. And it’s certainly nice to have some time to commiserate with your brethren. However, it takes more than one resident retreat with a few fleeting smiles to relieve the myriad causes of resident burnout. Based on this method of data collection, the numerous sources of burnout, and my own retreat experiences, the study conclusions overly simplify the real causes and solutions for treating resident burnout. Although it sounds nice in theory, and may temporarily increase residency morale, a solitary retreat is not the answer!