Physician Burnout

Everything you need to know about physician burnout.

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The Current Landscape of Physician Burnout

Burnout in physicians has risen in recent years , resulting in just over half of all US physicians feeling the effects of burnout. The highest rates of burnout have been identified in emergency room physicians ; however, increased burnout has appeared across all specialties.

The Mayo Clinic/AMA study, and a Medscape lifestyle survey of physicians that reported similar findings, defined burnout as "loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment." Patients and coworkers are negatively affected by physician burnout, but the doctors experiencing serious burnout are at the highest risk of succumbing to the symptoms. Dr. Pamela Wible , an activist for suicide prevention and creator of innovative clinic designs, reports that the equivalent of an entire medical school. commits suicide every year .

Pinning down just one cause of physician burnout can seem impossible, but it really comes down to workplace stress. While patients are complaining that modern-day medical practices aren’t prioritizing their best interests, doctors are feeling the same depersonalization.

Causes of Physician Burnout

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Need for Secrecy

Physicians tend to not seek help for depression or anxiety because most states require doctors to report even the most minute mental health-related diagnosis to their licensing board. A reported diagnosis can then sometimes lead to a restriction on a physician’s license.

Chaotic Work Environment

More than 70 percent of physicians in emergency departments have reported burnout, and rightly so. The ER is one of the most high-pressure environments to work in; even so, other specialties are not far behind in terms of burnout levels.

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Interrupted Personal Life

Frequent schedule changes, emergency cases, or a workload that can’t be finished during office hours set the stage for burnout. These interruptions can put a strain on personal relationships, causing even more stress in a physician's life.
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Too Many Bureaucratic Tasks

Bureaucratic obligations have ranked as one of the highest concerns of burned out physicians in recent years. Instead of face-to-face time with their patients, physicians have found themselves tied down to computerized processes.

Symptoms of Physician Burnout

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More than 70 percent of physicians in emergency departments have reported burnout.

It’s important to catch symptoms of physician burnout early on for the sake of the individual and those around them. Burnout can rear its head in different ways, but there are a few universal signs to look out for.

Fatigue is one of the most obvious and persistent symptoms of burnout for physicians. Work-related exhaustion is normally noticed first at home after quitting time (i.e. no energy to cook dinner or spend time with friends and family). However, if gone untreated, fatigue will make its way into your workday, resulting in mistakes that wouldn’t normally be made.

Emotional detachment is another possible side effect of burnout. If you feel cynical or apathetic towards your work and patients, you may be suffering from physician burnout. Also, if you find yourself asking “What’s the point?” in regards to your work as a physician, it’s probably time to reach out for help.

If you’re wary of seeking help for your burnout symptoms, the Physician Well-Being Index can accurately and 100% anonymously assess your well-being, then provide valuable resources for your areas of need. Allowing your burnout symptoms to spiral out of control will not be doing yourself, your patients, or your loved ones any favors.

The Impact of Physician Burnout

How Physician Burnout Affects Personal Life

Physician burnout clearly affects patients and the institution greatly, but sometimes personal lives can be overlooked. The depression or anxiety that a physician may be battling due to burnout at work can easily transcend into more intimate parts of life.

Quality of sleep is a factor that is readily affected by burnout. If a physician is experiencing poor sleep quality, low energy levels will result, putting stress on relationships in and out of work. Additionally, sleep deprivation impairs language and math skills, weakens ECG interpretation, increases the amount of time it takes to perform surgical procedures, increases error rates in intensive care units and generates less empathy for patients, according to research.

A physician’s personality can also be affected by feelings of burnout. After working long hours and dealing with stressful situations, you may be prone to sensitivity, anxiousness, and irritableness. These side effects will undoubtedly negatively affect your personal and professional relationships.

Lastly, your dietary habits can be majorly impacted by physician burnout. Stressed out physicians are more likely to eat quick, unhealthy options. Not only do physicians lack time to prepare healthy foods after a long day at work, but they are prone to the habit of "emotional eating." Poor eating habits result in stress, anxiety, high blood pressure and depression.

How Physician Burnout Affects the Institution

Physician burnout not only affects the individual but the patient and the institution as well. In today’s healthcare climate, physicians might find it difficult to focus on patient satisfaction. Overworked and understaffed, medical professionals may feel as if they are fighting a rising tide of professional and personal issues, pushing patient satisfaction further down the list.

When patient care and satisfaction are not priorities for the physician, the institution can suffer tremendously. Your organization may end up paying for a physician’s mistake or the mistreatment of a patient. Moreover, considering the competitiveness of healthcare institutions today, there is hardly room for a PR crisis.

An institution will also end up paying - in dollars and reputation - for health-related expenses that accumulate if physician burnout is not addressed promptly. High turnover rates are also likely in an organization that does not unearth causes of burnout. If burnout symptoms are identified by institution leaders in a timely manner, resources can be put in place to avoid any financial or reputational blows.

Physician Work-Life Balance

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Balancing work and personal life can be a serious challenge for physicians in any specialty. Monitoring your well-being while trying to succeed at work, and being present in your personal life, can seem nearly impossible. With the right self-assessment tool and some tips on creating a work-life balance, physicians have an exponentially greater chance of defeating symptoms of burnout.


Getting enough rest, spending time outdoors, and taking time off when sick are a few tactics physicians should use when combating burnout. It can become burdensome trying to monitor wellness levels while taking heed of these tips; however, with an accurate self-assessment tool, well-being can be monitored with ease. The Physician Well-Being Index helps physicians track their well-being, plus it provides resources to advance progress.

The Importance of Addressing Physician Burnout

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Addressing Stigmas

Symptoms of burnout and stress do not hold prejudices, no matter the professional status, and can become dire if not addressed. Furthermore, the stigma surrounding mental health does not cease for healthcare professionals. One reason physicians may hold personal stigmas towards their burnout can be out of fear of losing their jobs. Trekking through the grueling process of medical school and residency and coming out the other end is a major achievement. Showing vulnerability by expressing feelings of burnout could possibly cost a physician their job.

Other concerns surrounding admitting burnout are fear of failure, loss of patient trust or the physicians simply do not realize how bad the problems actually are. The tendency to keep burnout a secret is all too common for physicians; this is why it is so crucial to address the issue within the institution and let physicians know that it’s a safe place to discuss mental health.

How to Address Physician Burnout

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The subsequent topic is how to address physician burnout. Some methods of addressing physician burnout that organizations have used include administering surveys, general purpose HR tools, and conducting casual conversations to identify any signs of burnout. However, these approaches do not often yield the statistics needed to track and improve physician burnout accurately.


If your institution is searching for a way to accurately and anonymously address physician burnout, the web-based Well-Being Index takes into account all dimensions of burnout including disengagement and quality of life. Mayo Clinic invented the Well-Being Index to do more than simply assess physician burnout levels. The Well-Being Index provides resources in areas that are needed most as well as track well-being over time. The WBI helps your organization address the problem then assists in taking steps to a long-term solution.

Resources for Physicians to Improve Well-Being

There are multiple resources for the individual and organization facing burnout. By using the Physician Well-Being Index, your wellness leadership team will more accurately understand which areas of distress will need to be addressed.

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Individual Resources for Burnout

It's important that the organization provides individuals with resources to combat burnout comfortably on their own time. A few of these can include:

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Organizational Resources for Burnout

In addition to individual intervention tools, organizations looking to move forward as a whole should consider the following sources.

[RELATED: We Assessed Physician Burnout. Now What?]

Benefits of the Physician Well-Being Index

The Physician Well-Being Index is a 100% anonymous, web-based tool that measures multiple dimensions of distress in just 9 questions. Institutions and participants have reaped numerous benefits from the Mayo Clinic-invented tool.

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Measure Multiple Dimensions of Distress

Researchers from Mayo Clinic evaluated several distress mechanisms to create the foundation of the Physician Well-Being Index. Their results pointed to nine all-encompassing questions that measure:

  • Professional satisfaction
  • Burnout
  • Engagement
  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Quality of life
  • Other composite well-being agencies


Track Wellness Scores Over Time

After initial assessments, the Physician Well-Being Index tracks participants' scores over time. This function promotes self-awareness along with the ability to correlate life and practice events with their respective wellness scores.

This is also a valuable measurement for institutions, as long as participants are encouraged to regularly reassess. Admins are able to anonymously evaluate healthcare staff to identify trends and success criteria for wellness initiatives.


Provide Local and National Resources

Included with the Physician Well-Being Index are valuable resources on national and local levels. Once a physician finishes the quick assessment, they will have access to informational videos, validated study materials, and more.


A Completely Validated Screening Tool

The Physician Well-Being Index is more than an assessment. It's a tool that has been researched and validated in a variety of applications by multidisciplinary professionals at Mayo Clinic. See their findings below.


It's Free to Monitor Well-Being

Maybe the best thing about the Physician Well-Being Index is its accessibility. Physicians can self-assess their well-being for free. Users have the option to create an account and reassess in the future to track their scores over time.

 


 

Are you searching for a way to identify or combat physician burnout? Measure and promote physician well-being with the Mayo Clinic-invented Well-Being Index. Try out the free demo now!

Explore the Well-Being Index Demo

Join the hundreds of organizations using the Well-Being Index to assess and monitor the well-being of their organization. Invented by the Mayo Clinic, the Well-Being Index:

  • Anonymously assesses multiple dimensions of distress in just 7-9 questions. 
  • Allows participants to compare their well-being to their peers based on national averages.
  • Provides resources and education on a wide variety of topics designed to aid in reducing burnout. 
  • Includes the ability to track wellness over time.

The Well-Being Index is available in multiple plans to ensure organizations of all sizes can utilize the tool.  

Access the Well-Being Index Demo