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The use of an object: exploring physician burnout through object relations theory
  1. Jo Winning
  1. English, Theatre and Creative Writing, Birkbeck College, London WC1H 0PD, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jo Winning, English, Theatre and Creative Writing, School of Arts, Birkbeck College, University of London, London WC1H 0PD, UK; j.winning{at}


The crisis of physician burnout has been widely and repeatedly reported across the mainstream press and medical journals around the world, in the closing years of the second decade of the 21st century. Despite multiple systematic reviews and commentary on the scale of this ‘global epidemic’, understandings of both the phenomenon and the most effective interventions remain limited. Practice-based medical humanities represents the collaborative sharing of conceptual tools for understanding illness and clinical practice and the shouldering of responsibility for mapping the shape of care, in all its local, national and global contexts, thinking-with rather than critique on the profession and its practices. In keeping with this approach, this article offers a new perspective on the contemporary crisis of physician burnout by exploring the objectification of the clinician’s body within the systems and practice of healthcare. Within the context of medical humanities’ scholarship, discussions of objectification usually navigate towards a discussion about patient identity and its potentially reductive objectification within the frameworks of biomedical science. However, this article crosses the cultural divide between clinician and patient, and comes to focus on the objectification of the clinician herself, using object relations theory from the field of psychoanalysis to excavate the psychodynamics of care and their impact on clinicians, and the systems of healthcare in which care is delivered.

  • medical humanities
  • psychoanalysis
  • medical education

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  • Contributors No contributors were involved in the writing of this article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data in this article are drawn from narratives freely available in the public domain.

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