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The Physician Burnout Reality (65 Concerning Statistics)

Physician burnout, a work-related syndrome, is something that physicians can experience at any stage in their careers, from medical school through the years leading up to retirement. 

Among the most common symptoms of burnout are:

physician burnout
  • Loss of motivation
  • Feeling helpless, trapped or defeated, detachment
  • Increased cynical or negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction or sense of accomplishment
  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Tiredness that does not respond to adequate rest
  • Lowered immunity, frequent headaches and muscle aches
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Withdrawal from responsibilities, isolating from others
  • Procrastinating
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed intensive care units and hammered physician practice finances, doctors and other health professionals faced high rates of burnout.  In addition to the toll it takes on individual physicians, physician burnout significantly affects the healthcare industry by reducing the quality of care and hindering patient outcomes.

In this physician burnout statistic roundup, you’ll learn:

  • How Burnout Impacts Medical Errors
  • Which Specialities are Ranked Highest for Burnout
  • Top 6 Causes of Physician Burnout
  • How Physician Burnout Differs by Age
  • How Work Hours Contributes to Burnout
  • How Compensation and Educational Debt Factor in the Burnout Matrix
So, without further ado, here’s a roundup of the most newsworthy and jaw-dropping stats about this epidemic of physician burnout. Let’s dive right in:

42% Of Physicians Experienced Burnout in 2021

A survey of physicians found that 42% experienced symptoms of burnoutThat’s the same percentage who reported feeling burned out in 2019. When broken down, the burnout gender gap was greater than usual. The results showed that 51% of female respondents and 36% of male respondents said they were burned out.

Sources: (Medscape)

"Almost half of generation X (40–54 years old) physicians report burnout."

A Burned Out Doctor is 120% More Likely to Make a Medical Error

Half of all doctors report troubling symptoms: depression, exhaustion, dissatisfaction and a sense of failure. These physicians are twice as likely to commit a serious medical error. Not only does this jeopardize patient wellbeing, it also substantially elevates the risk of malpractice lawsuits.  Burnout is also associated with decreased productivity, which can be measured in terms of work ability, sick days taken, and physicians’ intent to either continue practicing or change jobs.Sources: (Canadian Medical Journal

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96% of Medical Professionals Agree that Burnout is an Issue

Not only do doctors recognize this issue, but their executives and leaders agree. 31% recognize that it’s a moderate problem, and 65% believe it’s a serious problem. More clinical leaders see it as a serious problem than executives. Sources: (National Library of Medicine)

15 Physician Specialties Ranked by 2021 Burnout Rates

According to a Medscape Survey, the highest burnout rate was among Emergency medicine — with 60% of physicians reporting burnout.
 
Rank Specialty % of Burnout
1 Emergency medicine 60%
2 Critical care 56%
3 Obstetrics and gynecology 53%
4 Infectious diseases; Family medicine 51%
5 Physical medicine and rehabilitation; Diabetes and endocrinology 50%
6 Radiology 49%
7 Pediatrics 49%
8 Pulmonary medicine 48%
9 Anesthesiology 47%
10 Neurology 46%
11 General surgery 44%
12 Cardiology 42%
13 Plastic Surgery 40%
14 Psychiatry 38%
15 Orthopedics 37%

Physician Burnout Broken Down by Work Setting

The healthcare environment—with its packed work days, demanding pace, time pressures, and emotional intensity—can put physicians and other clinicians at high risk for burnout. The actual work setting also appears to be a factor, with different settings reporting different levels of burnout:
  • Healthcare organizations: 47%
  • Outpatient clinics: 46%
    Office-based multispecialty group practice: 44%
  • Nonhospital academic, research, government, or military: 42%
  • Hospital: 40%
  • Office-based single-specialty group practice: 40%
  • Office-based solo practice: 40%

Top 6 Causes of Physician Burnout

top reasons for physician burnout
Not surprisingly, bureaucratic tasks ranked highest. Bureaucratic tasks include charting and paperwork. This chews up lots of time for physicians and prevents them from seeing more patients. 50% of physicians work at least 60 hours a week, with a good chunk of the time allotted to paperwork.
  1. Too many bureaucratic tasks (58% in 2021, 60% in 2022)
  2. Lack of respect from colleagues and other professionals (37% in 2021, 39% in 2022)
  3. Too much time spent at work (37% in 2021, 34% in 2022)
  4. Lack of control/autonomy (28% in 2021, 32% in 2022)
  5. Insufficient compensation (32% in 2021, 28% in 2022)
  6. Increased computerization of practice (28% in both reports)

Burned Out Physicians More Likely to Leave

Burnout is causing physicians to consider leaving their practices. Younger doctors in particular think it’s unlikely they’ll be with the same organization in three years. 

Among physicians under the age of 45, 23% of those with significant signs of burnout said they would probably leave their practice. That figure drops to 9% among similarly burned-out physicians ages 45 to 49.

Electronic Health Record (EHR) Systems Contributing to Physician Burnout

The clerical burden introduced by EHRs has become a leading cause of physician burnout. EHRs contribute to burnout by turning physicians into unhappy data-entry clerks, and also by enabling 24-hour patient access without any system to provide compensation or coverage. The stats are telling:

  • Approximately 70 percent of respondents reported HIT-related stress, especially primary care physicians.
  • Physicians who reported marginal time for documentation were 2.8 times as likely to suffer burnout as those reporting ample time.
  • More than one-in-four respondents reported burnout.
  • Doctors who spend large amounts of time on EHRs at home had a 1.9 times greater chance of burnout.

42% of Physicians are Reluctant to Seek Mental Health Treatment

Almost half of all physicians think they can handle their struggles without professional help. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, physicians have experienced busier schedules, higher productivity expectations and more time spent documenting, which means less time to interact with other physicians.

As a result, physicians tend to handle stress alone and don’t reach out because they fear looking like a weak or subpar doctor.

Loneliness turned out to be related to organizational and team variables. High loneliness correlates in a statistically significant way with worse organization of work, also less support from administration management, management, and a worse working atmosphere.

Source: ( Health Affairs)

Physician Burnout Raises the Risk Of Alcohol Use

0 %
of doctors binge-drank
0 %
experienced negative emotions after overeating
0 %
had some type of sleep problem

Rates of Physician Burnout Increased During Covid

  • 21% of physicians experiencing burnout said it was because of Covid-19.
  • 72% of physicians have experienced a reduction in income due to COVID-19. Of these, 55% have experienced income losses of 26% or more.
  • 43 percent of physicians have reduced staff due to COVID-19.
  • 8 percent of physicians have closed their practices as a result of COVID-19.

Family Life Balance Challenges Contribute to Physician Burnout

Healthcare professionals who need to take care of children on top of their work responsibilities will experience 54% more burnout. Work is already mentally and physically taxing, but when they return home, they have even more duties with their children.

The spouses of physicians experiencing burnout symptoms may notice:

  • Increased isolation.
  • Greater irritability
  • More time away from home.
  • Less communication within the relationship.
  • Less time spent together.
  • Drop in physical intimacy.
  • More emotional separation.
It’s difficult to balance home and work life when the medical industry demands so much from its most skilled workers. This becomes a great emotional challenge to balance both, thus increasing chances to experience the ailment. Source: (AMA)

45% of Resident Physicians Experience Burnout

Burnout levels peak after the first year of residency and remain high throughout residency until graduation.

One survey found that on average, 45% of resident physicians experience burnout. This ranged from 29.2%-63.8%. The prevalence of career choice regret was between 7.4%-32.7%. 

Source: (JAMA Network)

Physician Burnout Differs by Age

  • Almost half of generation X (40–54 years old) physicians report burnout
  • 38% of millennial (25–39 years old) physicians report burnout
  • 39% of baby boomers (55–73 years old) physicians report burnout
  • 56% of millennials turned to sleep when coping with physician burnout
  • 46% of generation X doctors exercised to cope with physician burnout

37% of Physicians Say Work Hours Contributes to Burnout

Most physicians work 51-60 hours per week, but this only accounts for 26% of physicians. Another quarter work 60-80 hours, so a majority work between 50-80 hours. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most Americans work an average of 34.4 hours per week. 46 %of respondents to a survey are considering reducing their clinical work in the coming months and years, as a direct result of burnout. Source: (CMA)

Doctor Burnout Costs Health Care System $4.6 billion a Year

Burnout among doctors is costing the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $4.6 billion a year in billings because of three key factors:
  • reduced hours
  • physician turnover
  • expenses associated with finding and hiring replacements
    Source: (Harvard Gazette)

Compensation and Educational Debt Factor in the Burnout Matrix

  • 89% perceived a relationship between financial stress and burnout
  • Women physicians revealed compensation as the number two workplace concern behind work-life balance.
  • More than one-third of these women reported negative effects of their gender on compensation.
Source: (Medscape)

CONCLUSION

Communities rely on physicians of all specialties for their well-being. The continuing shortage of physicians means that women and men in the profession may need to work more efficiently and effectively to meet the growing demand for their valuable services. 

Recognizing and treating the signs of physician burnout is healthy for physicians, their patients, and their communities.

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