Feeling like the enemy: the emotion management and alienation of hospital doctors.

Globally, an epidemic of psychological distress, burnout, and workforce attrition signify an acute deterioration in hospital doctors' relationship with their work-intensified by COVID-19. This deterioration is more complicated than individual responses to workplace stress, as it is heavily regulated by social, professional, and organizational structures. Moving past burnout as a discrete "outcome," we draw on theories of emotion management and alienation to analyze the strategies through which hospital doctors continue to provide care in the face of resource-constraints and psychological strain. We used Mobile Instant Messaging Ethnography (MIME), a novel form of remote ethnography comprising a long-term exchange of digital messages to elicit "live" reflections on work-life experiences and feelings. The results delineate two primary emotion-management strategies-acquiescence and depersonalization-used by the hospital doctors to suppress negative feelings and emotions (e.g., anger, frustration, and guilt) stemming from the disconnect between professional norms of expertise and self-sacrifice, and organizational realities of impotence and self-preservation. Illustrating the continued relevant of alienation, extending its application to doctors who disconnect to survive, we show how the socio-cultural ideals of the medical profession (expertise and self-sacrifice) are experienced through the emotion-management and self-estrangement of hospital doctors. Practically, the deterioration of hospital doctors' relationship with work is a threat to health systems and organizations. The paper highlights the importance of understanding the social structures and disconnects that shape this deteriorating relationship and the broad futility of self-care interventions embedded in work contexts of unrealized professional ideals, organizational resource deficits and unhappy doctors, patients, and families.
Date: 11 Sep 2023
DOI: 10.3389/fsoc.2023.1232555
Journal: Frontiers in sociology
Pubmed ID: 37693799
ML/Curated Information
Viruses: SARS-CoV-2
Article Type(s): Research
Topics: Healthcare Workers, Psychology