Are Physicians Really More Burned Out?

Laurie Scudder, DNP, NP

Disclosures

January 27, 2015

Just under half (46%) of the almost 20,000 US physicians who responded to Medscape's 2015 survey on lifestyle told us they were burned out. An editorial published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine reported burnout rates ranging from 30% to 65% across specialties.[1] The highest rates occurred in physicians on the front lines—those in primary care, emergency medicine, and critical care. While the Medscape survey is a snapshot in time, it adds to the growing body of research underlying concerns about burnout. Is physician burnout worse than that found in other professional groups? A national survey published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012 reported that US physicians suffer more burnout than other American workers.[2] And burnout seems to begin early on in the careers of many physicians, often during residency.[3]

What are the repercussions of rising levels of physician burnout? Studies have documented a range of effects, from higher rates of depression, increasing work-life conflicts, decreasing levels of career satisfaction, and potentially negative effects on patient care.[4,5] Not much current data exist, but older studies have suggested that the suicide rate in physicians is at least twice as high as that of the general population.[6] While it is not at all clear that suicide is linked to work stress in physicians, it is possibly the ultimate indicator of burnout and stress.

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