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Analysis

Most Docs Report Burnout Symptoms

By John Commins  
   September 17, 2020

The Physicians Foundation survey of 2,334 physicians finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly worsened the problem.

Nearly 1 in 4 physicians (22%) know a colleague who committed suicide and 58% of physicians say they've shown symptoms of burnout, according to a new survey released Thursday by The Physicians Foundation.

"Physician wellbeing was a public health crisis long before COVID-19. Now, we’re seeing the pandemic exacerbating this issue," said Gary Price, MD, president of The Physicians Foundation.

"With nearly half of physicians telling us that COVID-19 won’t be under control until mid-year 2021, it's critical we do more to support physicians who are fighting on the frontlines and putting their lives at risk to care for patients," Price said.

The email survey of 2,334 physicians  –  COVID-19’s Impact on Physician Wellbeing  is the second in the Foundation's three-part series, 2020 Survey of America’s Physicians, that looks at how COVID-19 is affecting physicians. It was conducted in mid-August by physician recruiters Merritt Hawkins.

The survey was released on Thursday to coincide with National Physician Suicide Awareness Day.

Physician burnout rates were already at an all-time high before the pandemic but have increased dramatically within the past six months. The Physicians Foundation's 2018 Survey of America's Physicians found that 40% of physicians often or always experienced feelings of burnout.

In the latest survey, 50% of physicians said they experienced anger, crying or anxiety because of COVID-19's effects on their practice. To cope with the anxiety caused by the pandemic, 18% of physicians said they increased their use of medications, alcohol, or illegal drugs, while 13% sought medical attention for a mental health problem.  

Robert Seligson, CEO of The Physicians Foundation, said the finding that only 13% of physicians are seeking mental health care is a giant red flag that underscores the importance of a nationwide effort to address physician burnout.

"There are two main reasons that so few physicians seek help – stigma and fearing a loss of their license," Seligson said. "But just like anyone else, physicians are people and should feel comfortable seeking help without worry of being judged or losing their right to practice."

The survey also found that:

  • 22% of physicians know a doctor who committed suicide.
     
  • 26% of physicians know a colleague who has considered suicide and 15% know  colleague who has attempted suicide.
     
  • 8% of physicians have had thoughts of self-harm as a result of COVID-19's effects on their practice. Younger physicians report thoughts of self-harm at a higher rate than older physicians.
     
  • 30% cited feelings of hopelessness or having no purpose due to the changes of their practice because of COVID-19.
     
  • 78% cited a lack of population compliance with COVID-19 distancing and mask-wearing protocols as their number one source of frustration during the pandemic and 70% cite lack of reliable COVID-19 tests.
     
  • 90% of physicians cite their family as integral in supporting their wellbeing, followed by friends (83%) and colleagues (73%).
     
  • 56% said their medical practice or group has been helpful to their mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic, 40% said their hospital or health system has been helpful, 34% said their specialty society has been helpful and 23% said their state medical society has been helpful.

“Physician wellbeing was a public health crisis long before COVID-19. Now, we’re seeing the pandemic exacerbating this issue.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

22% of physicians know a doctor who committed suicide.

8% of physicians have had thoughts of self-harm as a result of COVID-19's effects on their practice.

30% cited feelings of hopelessness or having no purpose due to the changes of their practice because of COVID-19.


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