American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

2019 Charles G. Drake History of Surgery Lecture

From Surgical Burnout to Wellness: The Secret to a Balanced Life or From Icarus to Aequanimitas—Revisited

Joseph Maroon, MD, FACS

For many, the discipline of operative surgery becomes a magnificent obsession. What could be more gratifying for surgeons than to share all they have studied, learned, and honed to help relieve another's pain and give the gift of better health? Such a pursuit can fulfill the purpose of life: to lead a life of purpose.

The art of surgery also provides surgeons with many of the coveted social and mental amulets of success, including validation from patients and peers, financial rewards, prestige, a position of authority, and a powerful sense of focus and "flow" in the operating room.

Yet after such "success" is attained, surgeons may feel a hollowness and a gnawing realization that they've paid dearly for what they've earned. An obsession with surgery and its rewards has led many to strained marriages and ruined relationships, to substance abuse and burnout, and to mental and physical exhaustion. Because they're overwhelmed, overworked, and overcommitted, 12 percent of male and nearly 20 percent of female physicians are affected by major depression, and surgeons contribute significantly to the 400 physician suicides each year.

In the Charles G. Drake History of Surgery Lecture, "From Icarus to Aequanimitas," Dr. Joseph Maroon shares how he reached "success" soaring with the wings of Icarus and then details his fall into a sea of depression. His book Square One shares a simple formula for getting back to the basics of healthy living and balance in one's life, and his personal experience can provide a pathway to recovery—or better yet, a plan for prevention.