Burnout Rates Soar Among Family Physicians

Diana Phillips

January 28, 2015

Nearly half of family physicians younger than 35 years feel burned out, according to a new survey conducted by Medscape. In the 2015 Family Physician Lifestyle report, which updates a previous report on physician lifestyle and burnout, 43% of family physicians in this age group responded that they had burnout, defined as loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. This is a substantial increase over the rates documented in the 2013 report, in which fewer than 10% of the youngest family physicians said they felt burned out.

Half (50%) of family physicians across all age categories reported burnout in the 2015 report, up from 43% in 2013. Compared with other specialties represented in the 2015 overall lifestyle report, the burnout rate among family physicians is on par with that of internists, general surgeons, and infectious disease specialists. It is lower than only two specialties: critical care (53%) and emergency medicine (52%). Physicians with the lowest rates of burnout in the 2015 report are dermatologists (37%), psychiatrists (38%), and pathologists (39%).

On a severity scale from 1 ("does not interfere with my life") to 7 ("so severe I'm thinking of leaving medicine"), family physicians gave their burnout an average score of 4.17, the eighth highest score among the 26 specialties represented. The three specialties with the highest burnout severity scores were nephrology (4.3), cardiology (4.39), and plastic surgery (4.28), which were not specialties with the largest percentage of burned-out physicians, the authors point out.

The increasing rates of reported burnout are especially concerning not only because burnout has been shown to negatively influence patient care but also because the factors that lead to burnout are associated with a higher likelihood of physicians leaving their practice, the authors report. In addition, job stress has been shown to be a contributing factor to suicide, the rates of which are already higher in physicians than in the general population.

Bureaucratic tasks, spending too many hours at work, computerization, and insufficient income were the highest rated causes of burnout on a scale of 1 ("not at all important") to 7 ("extremely important"), with scores of 5.14, 4.23, 3.99, and 3.85, respectively.

More female family physicians (56%) than male family physicians (47%) reported burnout in the 2015 survey.

Burnout status among family physicians may be linked to financial assets. Nearly half (47%) of burned-out family physicians report having minimal savings to unmanageable debt compared with one third (33%) of those without burnout. In addition, although 61% of non-burned-out family physicians believe they have adequate savings, only 47% of those with burnout feel the same.

A comparison of lifestyle factors also suggest that burned-out physicians were more likely to report being overweight or obese and avoid exercise and were less likely to volunteer than non-burned-out physicians. Remarkably, 46% of burned-out family physicians report taking 2 weeks or less vacation per year, and 7% take none, compared with 34% and 3% of their non-burned-out peers.

The authors have no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

Medscape Family Physician Lifestyle Report. Published online January 26, 2015.

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