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Conflict and emotional exhaustion in obstetrician-gynaecologists: a national survey
  1. John D Yoon1,3,
  2. Kenneth A Rasinski2,
  3. Farr A Curlin2,3
  1. 1Section of Hospital Medicine, University of Chicago, Illinois, USA
  2. 2Section of General Internal Medicine, University of Chicago, Illinois, USA
  3. 3Associate Faculty, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago, Illinois, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr John D Yoon, University of Chicago, Department of Medicine, 5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC 5000, Chicago, Illinois 60637 USA; jdyoon{at}


Context Conflicts over treatment decisions have been linked to physicians' emotional states.

Objective To measure the prevalence of emotional exhaustion and conflicts over treatment decisions among US obstetrician/gynaecologists (ob/gyns), and to examine the relationship between the two and the physician characteristics that predict each.

Methods Mailed survey of a stratified random sample of 1800 US ob/gyn physicians. Criterion variables were levels of emotional exhaustion and frequency of conflict with colleagues and patients. Predictors included physicians' religious characteristics and self-perceived empathy.

Results Response rate among eligible physicians was 66% (1154/1760). 36% of ob/gyns reported high levels of emotional exhaustion, and majorities reported conflict with colleagues (59%) and patients (61%). Those reporting conflict were much more likely to report emotional exhaustion (58% vs 29% who never conflict, OR, 95% CI 2.8, 1.6 to 4.8 for conflict with colleagues; 55% versus 26%, OR, 95% CI 2.2, 1.4 to 3.5 for conflict with patients). Physicians with lower self-perceived empathy were more likely to report physician-patient conflicts (65% vs 58% with higher empathy, OR, 95% CI 1.4, 1.0 to 1.9), as were female ob/gyns (66% vs 57% of males, OR, 95% CI 1.5, 1.1 to 2.0). Foreign-born physicians were less likely to report such conflicts (47% vs 64% of US born, OR, 95% CI 0.5, 0.4 to 0.8). Physicians' religious characteristics were not significantly associated with reporting conflict.

Conclusions Conflicts over treatment decisions are associated with physicians' empathy, gender, immigration history and level of emotional exhaustion. With respect to the latter, conflict in the clinical encounter may represent an overlooked source or sign of burnout among ob/gyns.

  • Physician-patient relationship
  • emotional exhaustion
  • burnout
  • empathy
  • conflict
  • Women
  • quality of health care
  • moral and religious aspects
  • general

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  • Funding Supported by grants from the Greenwall Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, and National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (1 K23 AT002749, to FAC). Funding agencies did not participate in study design, data acquisition, analysis, interpretation, writing or submission.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the The University of Chicago Institutional Review Board.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.