Carol Peckham


March 27, 2013

In This Article

Income and Burnout

Income seems to be a major factor in burnout, although whether this is a consequence or a cause is not known. When responding to the Medscape survey question about savings, 39% of burned-out physicians consider themselves to have minimal savings or unmanageable debt compared with 24% of their less stressed peers -- a difference of 15%. Meanwhile, 69% of the non-burned-out physicians said that they have at least adequate savings, if not more, compared with 59% of their burned-out peers. Although incomes tend to be lower among primary care physicians than subspecialists and surgeons, burnout across all specialties was associated with a perception of lower savings and more debt. Nevertheless, it is clear from Figure 7 that burnout associated with low savings tends to be highest in some of the groups with the lowest incomes.

Figure 7. Percentage of physicians with minimal savings or unmanageable debt.

In a Medscape Primary Care Roundtable,[29]Robert Centor, MD, expressed an opinion that the payment system -- not income itself -- is responsible for burnout:

"[T]oo often the current finances of medicine 'force' physicians to spend inadequate time with patients. Regarding the point, administrators often encourage this behavior. Too many administrators have examined overhead and income, and their analysis argues that physicians should spend less time with each patient. I would argue that our payment system, especially for outpatient internists and family physicians, is a leading cause of burnout!"