Physician, heal thyself – or at least avoid workplace injuries


The high prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders in procedural specialists threatens their career longevity, according to authors of a systematic review of the literature.

The meta-analysis, comprising 21 articles and almost 6,000 clinicians, found the career prevalence of clinically diagnosed degenerative disease of the cervical and lumbar spine was 17% and 19% respectively, 18% for rotator cuff pathology and 9% for carpal tunnel syndrome.

The 12-month prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal pain included neck pain (60%), back pain (49%) and upper extremity pain (35%).

Rates of injury and pain were similar in surgeons and interventionalists, and in those performing predominately open or minimally invasive techniques. The wide range of at-risk specialists included gastroenterologists, interventional cardiologists, orthopaedic surgeons, gynecologists, urologists and general surgeons.

Overall 12% of physicians required a leave of absence, practice restriction or modification, or early retirement due to their work-related musculoskeletal disorder.

This was comparable to the prevalence in high-risk, labour-intensive occupations such as constructions workers, the study authors said.

Risks for procedural specialists included long work hours, repetitive movements, static and awkward postures and the challenges of instrument design.

“Like workers in other occupations, physicians have a right to practice their profession in a safe environment,” they said. “The health and career longevity of our trainees, our colleagues and ourselves rely on our dedication to bringing awareness and action to this issue.”

They said there was an unmet need for more ergonomics education during medical training and a ‘broader, systems-based approach to ergonomics programs within the surgical or interventional suites.’

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