Sixty percent of physicians are feeling burned out

Story at a glance

  • Physicians and medical professionals are under pressure because of the yearslong coronavirus pandemic and new threats like monkeypox and polio.

  • A survey of work-life integration and satisfaction finds that about 63 percent of physicians had at least one symptom of burnout during 2021.

  • Emotional exhaustion was higher on average across all specialties.

A recent study estimates that about 63 percent of physicians had at least one manifestation of burnout in 2021. This is an all-time high compared to previous years.

In 2020, this number was 38 percent and previously was about 44 percent in 2017, 54 percent in 2014 and 46 percent in 2011. These trends were similar across specialties.

The researchers survey physicians periodically, asking about work-life integration. Results from a 2020 survey showed variability in burnout, with specialties dealing with the coronavirus pandemic most affected.

This new study was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings and focused on survey data from December 2021 to January 2022 with 2,440 doctors participating. The physicians provide information about their demographics, hours worked per week and the professional characteristics of their practice.

Average emotional exhaustion and depersonalization scores were higher than from previous surveys. Depersonalization is one aspect of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, and can be defined as “impaired and distorted perception of oneself, of others and one’s environment and it manifests itself as an affective-symptomatic lack of empathy,” according to the GMS Journal for Medical Education.

Overall, 62.8 percent of respondents had at least one manifestation of burnout during 2021. Satisfaction with work-life integration was lower in this survey at about 30 percent of physicians who “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement that their work-life schedules left enough time for personal and family life. In previous surveys, this number ranged from 40 to 46 percent.

When looking at responses by specialty, all 24 specialties had higher mean emotional exhaustion scores and 23 specialties had higher mean depersonalization scores in 2021 compared to 2020.

This research group normally conducts this survey every three years. However, in this special circumstance they have data from 2020, 2021 and there’s the regularly scheduled survey planned for 2023.

These insights may be important to understand the ongoing situation that physicians are living and working through. “While the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic are hopefully behind us, there is an urgent need to attend to physicians who put everything into our nation’s response to COVID-19, too often at the expense of their own well-being,” says the American Medical Association (AMA) President Jack Resneck Jr. in a press release. “The sober findings from the new research demand urgent action as outlined in the AMA’s Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians, which focuses on supporting physicians, removing obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care, and prioritizing physician well-being as essential requirements to achieving national health goals.”

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