Physician burnout affects nearly 50% of physicians in the US based on a recent study by Stanford University. Burnout is a reaction to long-term stress characterized by emotional, mental and physical exhaustion, as well as a loss of purpose in one’s career. This type of stress leads to rising suicide rates among physicians, substance abuse, and the crumbling of personal relationships among other serious ailments.
Who’s at Risk of Burnout
Burnout is twice as likely among physicians than US workers in other fields. Front line specialties are at the highest risk of burnout including emergency medicine, family medicine, general internal medicine, and neurology. Some specialties, including Dermatology, are associated with a 40% lower risk of burnout. Those with a private practice have approximately 20% higher odds of burnout.
Physicians are not the only ones at risk, as nurses report a similarly high rate of burnout and depression as their physician colleagues. Studies have also identified younger physicians to be at increased odds for burnout, finding that those under 55 years of age have a 200% increased risk. (Dyrbye et al., 2019)
What Causes Burnout?
A physician study by The National Academy of Medicine identified areas of the professional experience that cause burnout:
- Work Hours
- Working Nights or Weekends
- Working on Work Projects from Home After Hours
- Work/Home Conflicts
- Patient to Physician/Nurse Ratio
- Lack of Control
- Physician Specialty
- Private Practice
- Incentive Pay
- Career Stage
- Career Fit, Finding Meaning in Their Work
- Computerized Order Entry
- Leadership Behavior
Risks to Practice
Burnout takes a toll of physicians, patients and the practices. In a practice, burnout has been proven to erode the quality of care, increase errors, and result in high turnover, threatening the already worrisome access to care. The burnout levels among hospital nurses are an independent predictor of healthcare associated infection. As the average emotional exhaustion of physicians and nurses working in ICU rose, so did standardized patient mortality ratios.(Dyrbye et al., 2019)
In a study of over 7,100 US surgeons, burnout was an independent predictor of reporting a major medical error and being involved with a medical malpractice suit.(Dyrbye et al., 2019) Additionally, self-perceived medical errors were associated with worsening burnout, depressive symptoms, over exhaustion and decrease in quality of life. This suggests a cyclical relationship between medical errors and burnout.
While a growing number of physicians are experiencing burnout, many organizations have taken steps to address the issue. Working to lower physician stress and improving their ability to recharge are crucial to moving forward.
Dyrbye, L., Shanafelt, T., Sinsky, C., Cipriano, P., Bhatt, J., Ommaya, A., West, C. and Meyers, D. (2019). Burnout Among Health Care Professionals: A Call to Explore and Address This Underrecognized Threat to Safe, High-Quality Care. [online] National Academy of Medicine. Available at: https://nam.edu/burnout-among-health-care-professionals-a-call-to-explore-and-address-this-underrecognized-threat-to-safe-high-quality-care/ [Accessed 16 Jul. 2019].
Ahrq.gov. (2019). Physician Burnout | Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality. [online] Available at: https://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/clinicians-providers/ahrq-works/burnout/index.html [Accessed 16 Jul. 2019].
News Center. “Collaboration Aims to Battle Physician Burnout.” News Center, 2019, med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2019/06/collaboration-aims-to-battle-physician-burnout.html.