Rates of Emotional and Physical Stress High in Mohs Surgeons

PHOENIX — There is a high prevalence of emotional and physical burden associated with being a Mohs surgeon, particularly among women and younger surgeons, according to new findings. In addition, most surgeons did not feel prepared to manage or prevent these symptoms.

“Our study highlights the need to implement ergonomic training and emotion-focused coping skills, as part of fellowship training and the continuing medical education curriculum, to alleviate and prevent emotional burnout,” said lead author Eduardo A. Michelen-Gómez, MD, a dermatology resident at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, San Juan, Puerto Rico. “This interaction also must be designed to cater to generation and sex specific needs.”

Michelen-Gómez presented the findings at the American College of Mohs Surgery (ACMS) 2024 Annual Meeting.

Mohs is a demanding procedure that involves repetitive motion, strict attention to detail, and high practice efficiency, all of which must be balanced with the need to prioritize patient safety and well-being. “All of these factors predispose Mohs surgeons to be at an increased risk of physical and emotional stress,” he said.

Despite these concerns, however, the literature is limited concerning work-associated stressors among Mohs surgeons. To further explore this issue, Michelen-Gómez and colleagues conducted a survey study of ACMS members to investigate not only the prevalence of emotional and physical stressors associated with being a Mohs surgeon but also what specific actions physicians were taking to prevent and/or treat these stressors.

They designed a 21-question cross-sectional electronic survey that was sent to all active ACMS members in 2023. Outcomes evaluated were gender, years of practice, concern for and prevalence of occupational musculoskeletal disorders, emotional stress and burnout, and surgeon’s knowledge and training to manage these symptoms. A total of 473 Mohs surgeons responded.

High Prevalence of Injury and Burnout

“Almost 90% of respondents reported moderate to severe concern for occupational musculoskeletal injuries,” said Michelen-Gómez. “The prevalence of these injuries was 68%, with neck injuries being the most common complaint. Of the entire cohort, 67% have adopted ergonomic practices patterns.”

Female surgeons had a higher prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries than men, and there was no correlation between years of practice and prevalence of these injuries.

Their results also showed that 70% of respondents reported experiencing psychological and emotional stress or burnout associated with being a Mohs surgeon. The cause of emotional stress differed between men and women. “In males, the most common cause was patient care–related anxiety, while in females, it was finding an adequate work-life balance,” he said.

Surgeons with fewer years of experience were more likely to experience emotional stress (P = .01), and female surgeons had a higher prevalence of burnout and musculoskeletal disorders (71.0% and 71.4%, respectively) than male surgeons (67.7% and 65.2%, respectively).

To prevent or manage musculoskeletal injury, respondents reported using interventions such as physical therapy, yoga/stretching/Pilates, massage therapy, cupping, and using a physical trainer. Specific actions for preventing or managing emotional stress and burnout included engaging with a therapist, working with a life coach, practicing meditation or mindfulness, journaling, relying on religion or spirituality, and exercise.

However, among those who reported musculoskeletal disorders or emotional stress, only 40.56% and 46.67%, respectively, felt they had sufficient knowledge and the resources to manage them appropriately.

“In addition, we found a positive correlation between the development of psychological stress and physical issues,” said Michelen-Gómez. Future studies can include determining the most effective methods to address the emotional and physical stressors of practicing Mohs Surgery.”

Approached by Medscape Medical News for an independent comment, Jesse M. Lewin, MD, chief of Mohs micrographic and dermatologic surgery and vice chair of surgical operations at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, said that the real-world take-home messages from this study are twofold.

“It is important to focus on physician wellness and prevention of burnout and physical injury to protect our physician workforce, and two, we should equip physicians-in-training with tools to protect their physical and emotional health,” he said.

Michelen-Gómez and Lewin had no relevant disclosures.

Roxanne Nelson is a registered nurse and an award-winning medical writer who has written for many major news outlets and is a regular contributor to Medscape Medical News.

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