Black clouds in surgery: A study of surgical resident workload and burnout

Zerubabbel K. Asfaw, Alexander J. Schupper, John Durbin, Christopher Kellner, Raj Shrivastava

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The concept of a ‘black cloud’ is a common unfounded perception in the healthcare workforce that attributes a heavier workload to specific individuals or teams. Prior studies in non-surgical disciplines have demonstrated that ‘black cloud’ perceptions are not associated with workload, albeit such perceptions may influence behavior. The influence of ‘black cloud’ perceptions on surgical resident workload and burnout remains to be investigated. This study assesses the associations between ‘black cloud’ self-perception with actual workload and burnout among surgical residents in different specialties. Methods: A cross-sectional survey study of postgraduate year (PGY) 2 and 3 residents enrolled in different surgical residencies at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai was conducted between September–November 2021. Results: The survey response rate was 62.1% (41/66). 46.3% of respondents were female. The majority of subjects were single (61%) and PGY2 trainees (56.1%). In a multivariate regression analysis demographic factors and workload variables, such as the number of pages responded, notes, and amount of sleep, were not significant predictors of a ‘black cloud’-self-perception. A significantly lower Burnout Index Score (BIS) was observed among females (p< .001). A significantly higher BIS was observed among residents who are single (p = .003), training in general surgery (p = .02), and orthopedic surgery (p = .03). There was no significant association between ‘black cloud’ self-perception and BIS. Discussion: The findings demonstrate that a ‘black cloud’ self-perception is not associated with a high workload and burnout among surgical residents. Gender, marriage/domestic partnership, and certain surgical specialties influenced burnout among the study cohort.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-77
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Black cloud
  • Burnout
  • Resident workload
  • Surgery
  • Surgical resident


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