Go Beyond Burnout

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.

Burnout, along with other dimensions of distress such as severe fatigue, suicidal ideation, and risk of medical error, all play a role in physician well-being. 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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Stigma and Consequences of Seeking Help

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 distress. 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 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 Integration

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Successfully integrating 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 resources on how to create a productive synergy between all areas of life, 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 and reduce dimensions of distress.

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. Physicians tend to avoid reporting burnout and other dimensions of distress or even discussing well-being within the workplace due to the perceived implications of failure, potential career repercussions, and other negative consequences. 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.

The tendency to keep burnout a secret is all too common for physicians; this is why it's 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 dimensions of physician distress such as 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 well-being accurately.


If your institution is searching for a way to accurately and anonymously address physician distress, the web-based Well-Being Index takes into account all dimensions of physician distress, including burnout, severe fatigue, suicidal ideation, risk of medical error, meaning in work, and work-life integration. Mayo Clinic invented the Well-Being Index to do more than simply assess physician burnout levels. The Well-Being Index provides customized resources based on participants' results and tracks well-being over time. The WBI helps your organization address the problem, then assists in taking the proper 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 dimensions 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?]

Using Incentives to Promote Physician Wellness

Long hours and the high levels of stress of the position oftentimes make it difficult for physicians to focus on improving their well-being. Therefore, it's essential that organizations implement systemic changes that allow physicians to care for themselves as well as they do their patients. Using incentives can encourage self-care behavior and participation in the institution's wellness initiatives.

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Physician Wellness Studies

Many studies identify burnout and overall distress as an increasing problem, but very few propose real solutions. A recent study facilitated in Germany outlines resilience strategies used by healthy and satisfied physicians. These tactics will come as no surprise to those who have looked into clinician wellness before. The challenge lays in successfully changing the organizational culture so that physicians have access to the proper resources and feel empowered and encouraged to prioritize their well-being.

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Using Rewards and Incentives to Promote Well-Being

A common way of encouraging wellness in your institution is with insurance premium discounts. Other incentives for participating in well-being initiatives could be cash or a gift card as long as they're given in combination with acknowledgment of an accomplishment, such as the completion of self-assessing with a validated tool such as the Well-Being Index.

CME activities are another option for incentivizing wellness in your organization. 

Benefits of the Physician Well-Being Index

The Physician Well-Being Index is a completely anonymous, online self-assessment tool that measures six dimensions of distress and well-being 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 six dimensions of distress to create the foundation of the Physician Well-Being Index. Their results pointed to nine all-encompassing questions that accurately measure:

  • Likelihood of Burnout
  • Severe Fatigue
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Risk of Medical Error
  • Meaning in Work
  • Work-Life Integration


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 re-assess. 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 immediately 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 re-assess 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 600+ organizations using the Well-Being Index to assess and monitor the well-being of their organization. Invented by Mayo Clinic, the Well-Being Index:

  • Anonymously measure 6 dimensions of distress in just 9 questions. 
  • Allows participants to compare their results to their peers' and national averages.
  • Provides resources and education on a wide variety of topics designed to aid in reducing distress. 
  • Includes the ability to track well-being 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