Original Research

Exploring burnout among psychiatric trainees at a South African university

Tejil Morar, Belinda Marais
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 28 | a1634 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v28i0.1634 | © 2022 Tejil Morar, Belinda Marais | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 September 2020 | Published: 25 February 2022

About the author(s)

Tejil Morar, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; and, Gauteng Department of Health, Sterkfontein Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa
Belinda Marais, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; and, Gauteng Department of Health, Tara Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: The mental health of doctors is increasingly topical, internationally and locally. Of importance is the phenomenon of burnout, a far-reaching repercussion of chronic work-related stress. Psychiatrists are more vulnerable to stress, burnout and suicide in comparison with other medical specialities. There is a void in published research relating to South African psychiatric trainees.

Aim: The study aimed to investigate burnout and associated factors among psychiatric registrars at a South African university.

Setting: Department of Psychiatry at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional study via an anonymous self-administered questionnaire. The questionnaire comprised three sections: demographics; the Maslach Burnout Inventory Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS) and questions relating to contributing factors, protective factors and consequences of burnout. The MBI-HSS is recognised as the leading measure of burnout, consisting of three subscales: emotional exhaustion (EE), depersonalisation (DP) and personal accomplishment (PA).

Results: The questionnaire was completed by 33 out of 55 psychiatric registrars (60.0% response rate). Data from 31 registrars were used in the analyses, as two registrars did not provide informed consent. Among participants, EE was the most commonly affected, followed by DP and lastly PA. The majority (67.8% or n = 21) had scores in the high category for any one of the three subscales (EE/DP/PA). Significant factors associated with burnout included poor work and non-professional life balance (p = 0.017), utilising annual leave days for work-related tasks (p < 0.001), irregular holidays (p = 0.003) and financial debt (p = 0.026). A possible protective factor was an amicable relationship with fellow psychiatric registrars.

Conclusion: There is evidence of some degree of burnout in more than two-thirds of participants. Associated factors lie largely at an organisational level, and while optimising individual resilience is important, systemic support plays a key role.


burnout; doctors’ mental health; psychiatry; trainees; stress; South African doctors; Maslach Burnout Inventory; residents


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