Feeling tired? Stressed? You're not alone — 10 key thoughts on physician burn-out

Faced with seemingly endless administrative tasks, physicians experience burn-out more than any other specialty in the United States.

Here are 10 things to know about physician burnout.

1. Burn-out among all U.S. physicians is reaching 46 percent, which is 10 percent more than the general population. This is a substantial increase from 40 percent of physicians reporting burn-out in 2013.1

2. The highest burn-out rates are found in critical care (53 percent) and emergency medicine (52 percent). Almost half of all family physicians, internists and general surgeons reported burn-out.2

3. Medical errors are often linked to physician burnout. A study examined the correlation between physician burn-out and medical errors using a self-assessment of major medical errors, a validated depression screening tool and standardized assessments of burnout and quality of life. The study found of 7,905 participating surgeons, 8.9 percent reported concern they made a medical error in the last three months, with 70 percent of those surgeons claiming the error was due to individual error rather than systematic factors. Researchers found surgeons reporting an error had a significant adverse relationship with mental QOL, all three domains of burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment) and symptoms of depression.3

4. Leadership has been directly tied to physician burn-out rates. Mayo Clinic surveyed 3,000 physicians and scientists about their well-being at work. Respondents evaluated themselves as well as their immediate supervisors, comprised of physicians and scientists, in 12 specific dimensions of leadership. The survey found 40 percent of respondents reported burnout and found there was a direct link between burnout rates and leadership rates.4

5. Various factors contribute to the high rates of physician burn-out. Physicians often cite "too many bureaucratic tasks, spending too many hours at work and income not being high enough" as causes for stress. Other common causes include the computerization of practice, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and too many patient appointments in one day.2

6. Of physicians aged between 46 and 55 years old, 53 percent of physicians reported burn-out. Physicians between 36 and 45 years old reported a burn-out rate of 51 percent. Older physicians reported the lowest burn-out rate with physicians 66 years old and older reporting a burn-out rate of only 22 percent. 2

7. Medical residents are experiencing burn-out at high rates with 28 percent to 45 percent of medical students reporting burn-out. Depending on specialty, a reported 27 percent to 75 percent of residents reported burn-out. A resident's burn-out can result from a range of factors including time demands, work planning, difficult job situations, interpersonal relations and work organization.5

8. The American Medical Association launched STEPS Forward in an effort to combat physician burn-out. STEPS Forward aims at helping medical providers redesign their medical practices to reduce stress and find satisfaction in their careers. The program consists of 16 modules including steps for implementation, case studies, downloadable videos, tools and resources. The modules address practice efficiency and patient care, patient health, physician health as well as technology and innovation.1

9. A study found American physicians experienced lower levels of emotional exhaustion than physicians in Europe when safety and quality culture and career development opportunities were strong and when physicians utilized problem-focusing coping. However, U.S. physicians reported higher emotional exhaustion than European physicians when work-life conflict was strong and they did not cope effectively.6

10. Many physicians are planning to retire earlier than planned with experts projecting our nation will face a shortage of between 46,000 to 90,000 physicians by 2025. Six in 10 physicians stated it is likely many physicians will retire earlier than planned in the next one to three years, and more than 60 percent of physicians stated they would not recommend medicine as a career to their own children.


1.  The American Medical Association. Available at: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/news/news/2015/2015-06-08-ama-launches-steps-forward.page

2. Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report 2015. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/lifestyle/2015/public/overview#10

3. Burnout and medical errors among American surgeons. T.D. Shanafelt, C.M. Balch, G. Bechamps, T. Russell, L. Dyrbye, D. Satele, et al. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213058614000084

4. Mayo Clinic.  Available at: http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(15)00071-3/abstract

5. Burnout During Residency Training: A Literature Review. Journal of Graduate Medical Education. Waguih William IsHak, Sara Lederer, Carla Mandili, Rose Nikravesh, Laurie Seligman, Monisha Vasa, Dotun Ogunyemi, and Carol A. Bernstein

6. Correlates of physician burnout across regions and specialties: a meta-analysis. Raymond T Lee1*, Bosu Seo2, Steven Hladkyj3, Brenda L Lovell4 and Laura Schwartzmann. Available at: http://www.human-resources-health.com/content/11/1/48


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