Survey says

JAMA survey study shows physicians more resilient than most, but still have high rates of burnout

More emphasis should be placed on addressing the characteristics of practice environments that contribute most to burnout, the study suggests.

Physicians show more resilience than the general U.S. working population, but symptoms of burnout remain substantial even among the most resilient physicians, according to a national survey study published on July 2 in JAMA Network Open. 

The writers of the study say its findings suggest that while efforts to maintain or strengthen resilience in physicians are worthwhile, more emphasis should be placed on addressing the characteristics of practice environments that contribute most to burnout.

The national survey to collect this data was conducted in 2017, and assessed “a range of personal and professional characteristics as well as several dimensions of well-being.”

While most specialties demonstrated an inverse relationship between resiliency scores and burnout symptoms, there were some exceptions, which the study says warrant future research. Out of the specialties sampled, emergency medicine was found to have the highest average resiliency score, but also has been shown to have the highest burnout rate in previous studies. Pediatric subspecialties, shown to have low burnout rates in the past, also had the lowest resiliency score.

In a commentary editorial related to the survey results, Allan H. Goroll, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, wrote that while discussions on physician burnout have taken place long before COVID-19, the fallout from the pandemic has exacerbated many of burnout’s contributing factors.

“The importance of the practice environment is underscored during the coronavirus pandemic by the consequences of acute shortages of respirators and personal protective equipment for physician well-being and morale,” Dr. Goroll wrote. “Attempts to boost physician resilience without correcting these shortages borders on the disingenuous.”

Dr. Goroll urged health care leaders to focus on addressing the factors of the practice environment that most contribute to burnout, such as unwieldy EHR systems, unrealistic productivity demands and inadequate reimbursement.

“Prioritizing attention to these powerful but eminently correctible external factors bearing down on U.S. physicians today should help us reconnect with patients and experience the immense personal gratification that comes from their saying ‘thank you’ — the very best cure for burnout,” he wrote. “As noted in the National Academy of Medicine’s report: ‘Burnout comes from loss of connection to our patients … what our patients want and what we truly crave is to feel connected.’”

To learn more about the results, you can view the full published survey on the JAMA website.

Related reading:

My victory over burnout: How leading a sustainable life changed everything for me

6 ways to reduce doctor burnout at the systemic level

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