Physician Burnout Is On The Rise
You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know that being a medical doctor comes with some level of stress. But that stress is leading to burnout in a significant number of doctors, and it’s something we should all be concerned about.
A recent Mayo Clinic study found that more than 50 percent of physicians in the United States are suffering from one or more symptoms of burnout, including depression and even thoughts of suicide.
The researchers heard from about 19 percent of the 35,922 physicians who were invited to participate in the survey. Of the 6,880 respondents (67.5 percent male, median age 56 years), 54.4 percent reported one or more symptoms of burnout in 2014. That was up from 45.5 percent in 2011.
The highest burnout rates were found in urologists (63.6 percent), physical medicine and rehabilitation (63.3 percent), family medicine (63 percent), and radiology (61.4 percent).
One of the most startling findings was the prevalence of thoughts of suicide among physicians. From 2011 to 2014, the rate jumped from four percent to 7.2 percent. Work-life balance is also a problem. When the survey asked physicians to anwer “My work schedule leaves me enough time for my personal and/or family life,” 44.5 percent answered that they “disagree” or “strongly disagree.” That was up from 37.1 percent in 2011.
“American medicine appears to be at a tipping point with more than half of U.S. physicians experiencing professional burnout,” wrote researchers.
Physician burnout is obviously a health concern for the doctor on a personal level. But logically, their health concerns have an impact on the overall healthcare system, including:
- Lower quality patient care
- Lower patient satisfaction
- Higher rates of medical errors
- Higher malpractice risk
- Higher physician and staff turnover
The study didn’t address the potential impact the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had on physicians mental health, but given the fact that there are nearly 20 million people newly insured through Obamacare and no comparable increase in physicians to care for them, the extra patient load must have some role in the physician burnout problem.
Dike Drummond MD, a family physician who specializes in addressing the physician burnout issue, attributes the problem to the following:
- It’s inherently stressful – Even without the negative changes in the medical profession, the very nature of being entrusted to care for sick people comes with built-in stress.
- Stresses unique to your job – These stresses are related to the physician’s unique work environment, such as personality issues with coworkers or operational problems specific to the doctor’s practice or hospital.
- Faulty training – Doctors aren’t taught stress management or how to create a healthy work-life balance. Rather they are trained to be workaholics and to always put the patient’s needs first.
- Home life – Like everyone, there are stresses related to home life, including family problems.