Research

Retain rural doctors: Burnout, depression and anxiety in medical doctors working in rural KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

S Hain, A Tomita, P Milligan, B Chiliza

Abstract


Background. There is a need to retain medical doctors in rural areas to ensure equitable access to healthcare for rural communities. Burnout, depression and anxiety may contribute to difficulty in retaining doctors. Some studies have found high rates of these conditions in medical doctors in general, but there is little research available on their prevalence among those working in the rural areas of South Africa (SA).

Objectives. To determine the prevalence of burnout, depression and anxiety in doctors working in rural district hospitals in northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province, SA, and to explore the associated sociodemographic and rural work-related factors.

Methods. We performed a quantitative descriptive cross-sectional study in three districts in northern KZN among medical doctors working at 15 rural district hospitals during August and September 2020. The prevalences of burnout, depression and anxiety were measured using the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item questionnaire, respectively. The sociodemographic and rural occupational profiles were assessed using a questionnaire designed by the authors. Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the data.

Results. Of 96 doctors who participated in the study, 47.3% (n=44) were aged between 24 and 29 years and 70.8% (n=68) had worked in a rural setting for <5 years. Of the participants, 68.5% (n=61) were considered to have burnout. The screening tests for depression and anxiety were positive for 35.6% (n=31) and 23.3% (n=20) of participants, respectively. Burnout alone was significantly associated with female gender (84.8%; n=39) (χ2=11.65, df=1, p=0.01). Burnout (χ2=8.14, df=3, p=0.04) and anxiety (χ2=12.96, df=3, p<0.01) were both significantly associated with occupational rank, with 85.2% (n=23) of community service medical officers (CSMOs) reporting the former and 29.6% (n=8) screening positive for generalised anxiety disorder. Burnout (χ2=7.61, df=1, p=0.01), depression (χ2=5.49, df=1, p=0.02) and anxiety (χ2=4.08, df=1, p=0.04) were all shown to be significantly associated with doctors planning to leave the public sector in the next 2 years.

Conclusions. Our study found high rates of burnout, depression and anxiety in rural doctors in northern KZN, all of which were associated with the intention to leave the public sector in the next 2 years. Of particular concern was that CSMOs as a group had high burnout and anxiety rates and female gender was associated with burnout. We recommend that evidence-based solutions are urgently implemented to prevent burnout and retain rural doctors.


Authors' affiliations

S Hain, Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Medicine, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

A Tomita, KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; Centre for Rural Health, School of Nursing and Public Health, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

P Milligan, Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Medicine, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

B Chiliza, Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Medicine, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Keywords

Burnout; Depression; Anxiety; Rural medical doctors; South Africa; KwaZulu-Natal

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2021;111(12):1197-1204. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2021.v111i12.15841

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-12-02
Date published: 2021-12-02

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