Physician Burnout Continues to Rise. Here Are the Top Burnout Triggers.

Physician Burnout Factors

With long work hours, high-stress environments, and patients’ health and lives in their hands, it’s no wonder that career burnout is more prevalent in physicians compared to the rest of the U.S. working population.

According to a recent American Medical Association and Mayo Clinic study, which measured physician job satisfaction and work-life balance from 2011 to 2014, physician burnout continues to get worse with each passing year. The researchers assessed physicians based on the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which measures burnout based on three scales: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment. As of 2014, 54.4 percent met the criteria for burnout, nearly a 10 percent increase from the rate of 45 percent in 2011.

Excluding OB/GYNs and general surgery physicians, all specialties have reported experiencing an overall decrease in work-life balance satisfaction. However, it should be importantly noted that the level of satisfaction varies substantially depending on the individual specialty.

Specialties in the front line of patient care, such as primary and emergency and critical care physicians, as well as doctors practicing family medicine, are reported to have the highest rates of burnout

A Medscape Medical News survey conducted for the 2013 Physician Lifestyle Report resulted in similar findings. The survey defined burnout as a “loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment,” with nearly 40 percent of the participants suffering from it.

When questioned further on their top “triggers,” too many bureaucratic tasks, too many hours at work, and present and future impact of the Affordable Care Act, were among the most commons reasons for burnout.

An unsettling result of the survey also showed that physicians had little to no concern about the impact their burnout would have on patient satisfaction and quality of care. American Hospital Association Vice President John Combs says,

“This issue is certainly a growing concern in the hospital community. Many physicians are trying to get administrative tasks done, and that sacrifices time for patient interaction, a reason many physicians got into the field.”

Fortunately, many hospitals are taking the initiative to address the issue and lower physician burnout. As physician assistants (PA) and nurse practitioners (NP) continued to legally gain more practicing responsibilities, staffing more of them proves a great benefit for hospitals, as they can take over much of the work otherwise reserved for physicians. Hospitals are also putting together wellness teams as a direct way to see to the health and happiness of employees.

Chief Medical Editor at WebMD, Michael Smith, M.D., points out that these improvements are simply not enough to stop the consistent rise in physician burnout.

“Unfortunately, nobody has found that magic solution or particular programs that have been successful. If we don’t see significant changes in what is causing burnouts, then we’re unlikely to see a change in rates and change in medical care.”

And change is immediately vital. It will affect not only the health and wellbeing of the country’s physicians, but it affects the safety of millions of patients as well.

Samantha Hendricks
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