More than half of family medicine physicians feel burned out, according to a Medscape survey of nearly 16,000 U.S. physicians. Survey respondents listed the following as the top causes of burnout:
- Bureaucratic tasks.
- Working too many hours.
- Not earning enough income.
- Computerization of the practice of medicine.
When a physician feels burned out, it’s important to step back, examine the work environment and figure out what’s working and what’s not working, says Heather Fork, MD, a physician career coach and former dermatologist.
“You can even look at it as if it’s a marriage,” she says. “Ask yourself: How do I feel about this relationship? Do I need counseling? Do I need to get a divorce?”
Many of Dr. Fork’s clients come to her unsure if they want to continue practicing medicine. But the majority of them end up staying in practice once they figure out how to adjust their work lives to reduce burnout-causing stressors.
Below are a few potential solutions for the most-identified sources of physician burnout, tailored to family physicians.
Physicians often want to say “yes” and can end up with an abundance of duties that become overwhelming, Dr. Fork notes.
Dr. Fork suggests family physicians make a list of all their tasks, including nonessential work, and consider whether some duties can be delegated or dropped altogether.
She recently worked with a family physician to create such a list. “As soon as the physician decreased her optional participation on administrative committees, she was able to finish her charts and go home at a normal time,” Dr. Fork says. “It took her just a few weeks to make those changes.”
Working too many hours
A heavy workload and lack of control over her schedule were the major reasons Vania Manipod, DO, a psychiatrist in Ventura, California, quit her full-time job at a large group practice in 2014. She now works about 27 hours per week at a small private practice, compared to more than 40 in her previous position. This change has significantly affected her career satisfaction and exponentially improved her quality of life, she says.
Going this route will be scary for many physicians, but Dr. Manipod, who has written about her experience for KevinMD.com, suggests overworked doctors consider switching to a reduced schedule for a year or two to give themselves time to determine the type of work environment they enjoy.
“For me, it’s been very feasible financially,” she says. “Taking a pay cut and not having benefits was worth it for me in the long run.”
Not earning enough income
Many physicians working long hours feel their take-home pay doesn’t align with their efforts. Dr. Fork suggests physicians examine their compensation against the actual hours they work each week to determine their real hourly income. If it’s significantly lower than they’d like it to be, one option would be to reduce clinical hours and pick up side jobs that pay for hours of work completed.
Potentially lucrative options for side work include the following, Dr. Fork says:
- Chart review.
- Expert witness work in medical trials.
- Third-party assessment on disability and worker’s compensation claims.
Computerization of practice
Physicians who find working with electronic health records to be a daily struggle should track their usage and efficiency for one week, Dr. Fork says. Then, they should try different approaches to handling EHR entry and compare the various methods. For instance, if you always complete data entry after each patient visit, try starting it during the patient visit instead.
Hiring a scribe is another option, she notes.
Many EHR systems offer tech support and training, notes Robert DeLuca, DO, a member of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians’ Board of Governors. “It’s important to have someone you can call when you hit a technical roadblock,” he says.