Professional satisfaction

Physician burnout peaked around 2014, study suggests

While burnout levels remain high, fewer physicians reported feeling burned out in 2017 than they did three years earlier, according to Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Rates of doctor burnout improved between 2014 and 2017, according to a new study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The study authors surveyed more than 5,000 physicians in 2011, 2014 and 2017 to track trends in physician burnout, depression and work-life balance over the years.

The prevalence of doctor burnout increased from 2011 to 2014 and then fell in 2017 to just below 2011 levels. However, depression in physicians has steadily increased from 2011 to 2017, and the rate of physician burnout remains quite high—and it’s significantly higher than the rate of burnout in the general working public, which the researchers also measured.

Physician burnout, 2011-2017
Year Percentage of physicians reporting burnout
2011 46%
2014 54%
2017 44%

Why has the incidence of doctor burnout decreased? It’s possible that 2014 was a particularly hard year for physicians, many of whom were dealing with new regulations, increased administrative duties and changes to their workplace due to hospital and medical group consolidation, the study’s authors wrote.

Many burned-out physicians may have left the profession or reduced their clinical duties between 2014 and 2017, they noted. Another possibility is that employer and organizational efforts to address doctor burnout at the systemic level are beginning to have an impact.

“Even though they are still in their early stages, these efforts may have already made a difference: people are talking about the problems, individuals recognize that they are not alone, and the visible leadership by influential national organizations and accrediting bodies … engaging regulators, payers, and other organizations may provide optimism for meaningful change,” the researchers wrote.

Physicians at OMED 2019, the AOA’s annual conference, will be able to attend an all-day CME session on physician wellness issues, work-life balance and common workplace challenges. Presented in a physician-to-physician format, speakers will share their stories of regaining their own health and wellness while managing personal and professional challenges.

Physician depression

While the drop in physician burnout is cause for optimism, the rate of depression in physicians has risen slowly but steadily since 2011, the study found.

Physician depression, 2011-2017
Year Percentage of physicians screening positive for depression
2011 38%
2014 40%
2017 42%

Working more hours was associated with a higher risk of burnout, the researchers found, noting that physicians reported working a mean of 12 more hours weekly than those in the general population (more than 52 hours vs. 40 hours). However, the researchers also found that physicians were more likely to report burnout than the general population even after adjusting for hours worked per week.

Burnout in physicians and the general public, 2011-2017
Year Percentage of physicians reporting burnout Percentage of the general public reporting burnout
2011 46% 29%
2014 54% 28%
2017 44% 28%

The continued prevalence of burnout in physicians is a sign that efforts to address it need to continue, noted the study’s authors, who recommend a widespread coordinated, systems-based approach to tackling the underlying drivers of burnout.

“Evidence indicates that both individual- and organization-focused interventions are effective and indeed complementary,” they added.

Related reading:

5 facets of physician burnout

Doctor burnout costs the US $4.6 billion annually, study finds

3 comments

  1. I disagree with the assumption that physician burnout peaked in 2014. The number of physicians that have left the workforce & continue to do so would reflect a greater amount in my opion than your survey of current employed physicians! Poor data in is poor data out!

  2. That’s really “cheerful” news but I think we are still missing the point. Doesn’t it bother you that nearly one-half of physicians practicing today are still burned out or depressed?

  3. Does anyone have any stats on burn-out rates, depression rates, and suicide rates that tease apart MDs and DOs? If the training and background were different for effectively the same job, I am curious to see if we should look closer at those differences for a path going forward.

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