Surgeons find short breaks prove valuable in providing best care
Perfecting a skill requires equal parts natural talent, dedication and practice. A concert violinist plays a single piece of music over and over. A major league pitcher hurls strikes across home plate until the stadium lights go out. And a surgeon spends day after day leaning over an operating table while maintaining mental focus on the patient.
For all three, this kind of physical exertion and repetition stresses the body, leaving it vulnerable to work-related injuries that, over time, can cut careers short.
In the surgeon's case, cutting that career short is a devastating personal loss, but ultimately, the health care system and patients stand to lose the most.
"We need to stop thinking of the surgeon as a machine," says Susan Hallbeck, Ph.D., the Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Scientific Director for Health Care Systems Engineering Program in the Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery. She notes that even on an assembly line, workers take breaks to combat fatigue and sharpen mental focus.
Dr. Hallbeck and colleague Juliane Bingener, M.D., a Mayo Clinic gastrointestinal surgeon, believe breaks in the operating room — even short ones — can provide similar benefits to the surgical team.
The doctors teamed up to lead Mayo Clinic's participation in a multicenter "microbreaks" study initiated by Adrian E. Park, M.D., a nationally recognized leader in minimally invasive surgery and chair of the Department of Surgery at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Maryland.
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