Applied Evidence

Physician burnout: Signs and solutions

Author and Disclosure Information

From awareness to advocacy, here’s what you need to know to prevent burnout from taking hold.




Dr. Peter D is a mid-career family physician in a group practice that recently adopted an electronic health record system. Although he realizes he is now competent at computerized medicine, he has far less of the one-on-one patient contact that he once found so gratifying about the field of medicine.

Others in the practice have similar concerns, but they suggest that everyone ought to “go along to get along.” To manage the increasing demands of his case load and the required documentation, Dr. D has begun staying late to finish charting, which is negatively impacting his family life.

Dr. D finds himself burdened by record keeping that is increasingly complicated and insurance company demands that are onerous. Pharmaceutical prior authorizations that previously had been mildly bothersome are now a full-on burden. More often than not, he finds himself becoming irritable over extra requests and administrative demands, impatient with some patients and staff, and extremely fatigued at the end of workdays. Simply put, he finds that practicing medicine is far less enjoyable than it once was. He takes the Maslach Burnout Inventory, and his score indicates that he has moderate burnout.

Man sitting at computer holding head in front of bookshelf ©Joe Gorman/Shutterstock

Physician burnout has been a growing concern in recent decades.1 Characterized by varying degrees of job dissatisfaction, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, clinical inefficiency, and depression, physician burnout can impede effective patient care, cause significant health issues among physicians, diminish professional gratification and feelings of accomplishment, and financially burden society as a whole. Here we present the information you need to recognize burnout in yourself and colleagues and address the problem on personal, organizational, and legislative levels.

A problem that affects physicians of all ages

Physician burnout has been recognized to present anywhere on a spectrum, manifesting as ineffectiveness, overextension, disengagement, and/or an inability to practice.2 Such features may lead to feelings of professional inadequacy among even the highest functioning physicians.

In 2018, the Medscape National Physician Burnout and Depression Report indicated that 42% of physicians admitted to some burnout, while 12% said they were unhappy at work, and 3% reported being clinically depressed.

Burnout occurs in all stages of medical life—as students, residents, and practicing physicians.3-6 Due to pressures in excess of coping capacity, some physicians will suffer from alcohol or other drug abuse, depression, and/or suicidal thinking.7 Stress and burnout can also result in musculoskeletal disorders, immune system dysfunction, cardiac pathology, and a shorter lifespan.8

Not only do individual practitioners suffer consequences from burnout, but it also compromises health care delivery. In 2018, the Medscape National Physician Burnout and Depression Report surveyed 15,000 physicians from 29 specialties; 33% of the respondents said that they were more easily frustrated by patients, and 32% reported less personal engagement.9 Burnout adversely impacts care, patient satisfaction, productivity, physician retention, retirement, and income, as well.6 Safety during clinical practice deteriorates because of an increase in medical error rates.10 Resultant emotional distress for physicians creates a vicious cycle.10

Continue to: These issues negatively impact...


Next Article: