Physician Burnout: It Just Keeps Getting Worse

Carol Peckham


January 26, 2015

In This Article

Reducing Burnout in Physicians

A 2014 Cochrane review reported that cognitive-behavioral training and mental and physical relaxation reduce stress in healthcare workers more than no intervention, although not more than alternative interventions, including massage, meditation, and organizational interventions (notably, changing work schedules).[37] According to a number of studies, the practice of mindfulness, specifically, appears to be a helpful approach in reducing burnout.[38,39,40,41,42]

In a study of PCPs,[38] mindfulness was described as "mental training that enables one to attend to aspects of experience in a nonjudgmental, nonreactive way, which in turn helps cultivate clear thinking, equanimity, compassion, and open-heartedness." After a short training period consisting of a nonresidential weekend immersion along with two short follow-up evening sessions, PCPs experienced significant reductions in burnout, depression, anxiety, and stress that were sustained at the study's conclusion 9 months post-intervention.

Being able to control work hours and schedule is increasingly being demonstrated to play an important role in reducing stress and improving career satisfaction—and, therefore, reducing burnout.[37,43,44] One pilot study focused on improving resilience in physicians so that they could help balance and prioritize work and personal life. In the study, physicians reported that learning to set limits improved their sense of well-being and productivity.[12]

Is It All Bleak?

Providing some hope, the 2014 survey from the Physicians Foundation[15] reported a positive mood among 44% of physicians, which, while clearly not a majority, was higher than the 31.8% reported in the 2012 survey. The authors believed that this increase was powered by the emergence of physicians who are younger, female, and employed and also by increasing optimism among primary care doctors. In addition, the survey found that half of physicians said they would recommend medicine to their children—up from 40% in 2008—and 44% described their feelings about the current state of medicine as positive, an increase from 32% in 2012.

Although the Medscape surveys did not bear out these same optimistic trends overall, the results did show a slight decrease in burnout among female family physicians and other generalist physicians, which might presage a slightly better future for the healthcare profession, at least for women. Are there changes in the current survey from the one published in 2013 that might shed some light on the general increase in burnout and decline in happiness for most physicians? These surveys cannot provide evidence for these differences, but the responses offer some clues.


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