Physician Burnout: 54% Suffer with Symptoms, Here’s Why

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The latest research shows that just over half of physicians across all specialties and practice settings report experiencing at least one symptom of burnout. While the majority of providers cited too many bureaucratic tasks as the leading cause of burnout, it’s the consequences that are capturing national attention. Recent statistics indicate that, on average, one doctor per day commits suicide in the U.S. – the highest rate of any profession and higher, even, than the suicide rate of combat veterans.


What Does Physician Burnout Look Like?

According to the American Medical Association, the main symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, feeling cynical and disconnected from the job, and lacking a sense of personal accomplishment.

  • Exhaustion – Long work hours, job stress and little time in the day to take a breather can create the perfect storm for exhaustion. While time off usually provides an opportunity to recharge, burnout depletes those energy reserves.
  • Cynicism – This can happen when doctors feel overwhelmed by the emotion attached to patient cases. Although it’s healthy for providers to set emotional boundaries, burnout creates an unhealthy disconnection and desensitization toward patients.
  • Dissatisfaction – Providers who feel drained, detached, and cynical are less likely to feel a sense of personal accomplishment. This can cause a physician to isolate at work and at home and lose their enthusiasm for the profession.

Burnout can also lead doctors to become depressed, make major medical errors, and open themselves up to medical malpractice claims.

What Causes Physician Burnout?

Many physicians point to systemic issues as a major contributor to burnout, while research also shows a correlation with specialty and practice setting. Although the reasons are varied, at the core of each is a feeling of persistent, overwhelming stress.

  • The Push for Productivity – Shorter appointment windows than in the past effectively force providers to see more patients in a day – regardless of the complexity of their medical concerns.
  • Paperwork Over Patients – Inefficiencies associated with charting in the EHR along with increased reporting requirements frustrate physicians who would rather spend their time seeing patients.
  • Lack of Control – Patient-packed waiting rooms and low control over work pace has left providers feeling significantly less autonomous, respected and professionally satisfied.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Burnout?

It’s critical to address job stress, fatigue and discontent before it becomes burnout. Positive coping skills include exercise, talking with friends and family, and maintaining a good work/life balance. If burnout occurs, options include reduced or flexible work hours, a new work setting, or changes to the practice or staff designed to ease the workload.

Please share your comments with us regarding how to support providers to avoid physician burnout.

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