Psychosocial interventions for managing occupational stress and burnout among medical doctors: A systematic review

Bonnie A. Clough, Sonja March, Raymond J. Chan, Leanne M. Casey, Rachel Phillips, Michael J. Ireland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

119 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Occupational stress and burnout are highly prevalent among medical doctors and can have adverse effects on patient, doctor, and organisational outcomes. The purpose of the current study was to review and evaluate evidence on psychosocial interventions aimed at reducing occupational stress and burnout among medical doctors. Method: A systematic review was conducted for original research articles reporting on psychosocial interventions targeting occupational stress or burnout among medical doctors, published in the English language, and with data collected at a minimum of two time points. Searches were conducted across five electronic databases, as well as by manual search of Google Scholar. Data was extracted relating to study characteristics and outcomes, quality and rigour, as well as modes of delivery and engagement. Studies were appraised using the Strength of Recommendation Taxonomy (SORT) and Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP). Results: Twenty-three articles were reviewed, which reported on interventions utilising cognitive-behavioural, relaxation, and supportive discussion strategies. Only 12 studies allowed estimation of pre- to post-intervention effects. Cognitive behavioural interventions demonstrated the strongest evidence, particularly for reducing stress. Some evidence was identified to support the efficacy of relaxation-based approaches, but no such evidence was found for the efficacy of discussion-based interventions, such as Balint groups. There was a lack of quality among reviewed studies, with no studies receiving a quality rating of 1, and the overall body of evidence being rated as level B, according to the SORT. Effect sizes were not pooled due to a lack of quality among the study sample. Conclusion: This review found that despite increased scientific attention, the quality of research examining the benefits of psychosocial/behavioural interventions for occupational stress and burnout in medical doctors remains low. Despite this, interventions focused on cognitive and behavioural principles appear to show promise in reducing doctor stress and burnout. Limitations of the current review include a lack of risk of bias assessment or pooling of analyses. Recommendations for improving the quality of research in this area, as well as implications of the current body of evidence are discussed. Systematic review registration: PROSPERO CRD42016032595

Original languageEnglish
Article number144
Number of pages19
JournalSystematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Burnout
  • Doctors
  • Medical practitioner
  • Physician
  • Stress


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