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J Surg Educ. 2018 Feb 23. pii: S1931-7204(17)30516-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2018.01.021. [Epub ahead of print]

Burnout is Associated With Emotional Intelligence but not Traditional Job Performance Measurements in Surgical Residents.

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Department of Surgery, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama.
Department of Surgery, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama. Electronic address:



To evaluate whether burnout was associated with emotional intelligence and job performance in surgical residents.


General surgery residents at a single institution were surveyed using the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) and trait EI questionnaire (TEIQ-SF). Burnout was defined as scoring in 2 of the 3 following domains; Emotional Exhaustion (high), Depersonalization (high), and Personal Accomplishment (low). Job performance was evaluated using faculty evaluations of clinical competency-based surgical milestones and standardized test scores including the American Board of Surgery In-Training Exam (ABSITE) and the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 3. USMLE Step 1 and USMLE Step 2, which were taken prior to residency training, were included to examine possible associations of burnout with USMLE examinations. Statistical comparison was made using Pearson correlation and simple linear regression adjusting for PGY level.


This study was conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) general surgery residency program.


All current and incoming general surgery residents at UAB were invited to participate in this study.


Forty residents participated in the survey (response rate 77%). Ten residents, evenly distributed from incoming residents to PGY-4, had burnout (25%). Mean global EI was lower in residents with burnout versus those without burnout (3.71 vs 3.9, p = 0.02). Of the 4 facets of EI, mean self-control values were lower in residents with burnout versus those without burnout (3.3 vs 4.06, p < 0.01). Each component of burnout was associated with global EI, with the strongest correlation being with personal accomplishment (r = 0.64; p < 0.01). Residents with burnout did not have significantly different mean scores for USMLE Step 1 (229 vs 237, p = 0.12), Step 2 (248 vs 251, p = 0.56), Step 3 (223 vs 222, p = 0.97), or ABSITE percentile (44.6 vs 58, p = 0.33) compared to residents without burnout. Personal accomplishment was associated with ABSITE percentile scores (r = 0.35; p = 0.049). None of the 16 surgical milestone scores were significantly associated with burnout.


Burnout is present in surgery residents and associated with emotional intelligence. There was no association of burnout with USMLE scores, ABSITE percentile, or surgical milestones. Traditional methods of assessing resident performance may not be capturing burnout and strategies to reduce burnout should consider targeting emotional intelligence.


ABSITE; Interpersonal and Communication Skills; Medical Knowledge; Practice-Based Learning and Improvement; burnout; clinical competency; emotional intelligence; surgical residency

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