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Physician Burnout Pervasive: 1 in 2 Internists Affected

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 21, 2012

But perhaps more influential is the amount of paperwork and bureaucratic functions that are now falling disproportionately on certain types of doctors, West continues. "They have to spend a lot more effort, time and energy dealing with aspects of medicine that aren't really why they got into it in the first place."

He characterized the burnout sensation as one of "emotional exhaustion, a feeling of being overwhelmingly weary, like you're at the end of your rope. They say they're having a hard time seeing other people as people, rather as objects and become more callous, and for a physician, that's an awful thing."

Ryan Stanton, MD, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians and medical director of the ED at Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, KY, blamed high stress and shift turnover, as well as reduced compensation as reasons why emergency physicians are at the top of the burnout list.

"It used to be that the physician was put on a pedestal, a Norman Rockwell painting, a savior. But expectations of physicians continues to go up, yet compensation and assistance is going down," he says. "We're expected to do more and more and more. I'm four years out of residency and have been a physician for 10 years, but I can see myself getting burned out in the next five or six years." 

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5 comments on "Physician Burnout Pervasive"


Jim E (7/4/2013 at 11:04 PM)
Our group has concerns that given the changes and requirements of EHR coupled with never-ending demands of seeing even more patients daily by our "overseers", then when will our first malpractice claim be served as a result of our evolving "operator fatigue"?

Dike Drummond MD (8/29/2012 at 12:15 PM)
The literature on burnout over the last 20 years is completely consistent with this study. 1 in 3 doctors on average are suffering from symptomatic burnout on any given office day. These statistics are worldwide, regardless of the docotor's specialty OR the type of healthcare delivery system. The biggest cause is the conditioning of our healthcare educational system which effectively installs a survival mechanism in all doctors that has four key components. Workaholic Superhero Emotion Free Lone Ranger This is a key set of skills we all must use to survive training and NOT a great way to live a life. It is this programming that is primarily responsible for the epidemic of burnout we see in medicine. The additional post-graduation stresses of "the business of medicine", our complete lack of functional leadership skills and the uncertainties of political "reform" and the changing practice landscape - 75% of doctors are projected to be employees by 2013 - not to mention raising a family with this #800 gorilla of a career. It is a recipe for this dysfunction. Where do we go from here? It is a multifactorial answer. The doctors need the skills to lower stress and prevent burnout as individuals. That is why I created my website. We know what works to create a more resilient doctor and prevent burnout and it is rarely taught in the standard medical school and residency curriculum. And organizations bear a large responsibility because it is so darn easy to focus on the patient .... and not see that - in healthcare especially - the health and wellbeing of the provider has a direct impact on the quality and healing at the level of the patient. We have a moral, ethical and business imperative to support the wellness of the providers and not treat doctors like piece workers on a production line. These are immensely important topics that deserve more than a blog comment to do them justice. If you REALLY want to explore this issue in a way that has a chance to create meaningful change. Please contact me through my website. The doctors are the canary in the coal mine of modern healthcare ... unfortunately that same canary is the one coordinating the care of everyone in your system... and we cannot afford to let them drop. My two cents, Dike Dike Drummond MD TheHappyMD (dot) com

Marc Boisvert (8/24/2012 at 9:50 AM)
This study brings to light in a formal way and validates what many of us have been feeling for a long time. Our professional representative organizations should be tasked to keep this information in the public eye and hammer it home in every discussion of health care reform.