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12 Telling Points About Physician Stress and Burnout


There's no question that today's doctors are very dissatisfied with the medical profession. A new report lays out the dissatisfaction in awful detail.

“It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness.”

—Thomas Jefferson

Perhaps he was good hiding it, but I don’t really remember my physician-dad being stressed out, burned out or unhappy, generally speaking, when it came to his career as a practicing physician.

In fact, I think he loved the job—even with its many challenges, pressures, and stresses. Perhaps it was because he thought he was “the best” at what he did. So maybe it’s all about confidence.

Anyway, there’s no question that today’s doctors are very dissatisfied with the medical profession. The 2015 Physician Stress and Burnout Survey presented by VITAL WorkLife and Cejka Search, lays that out in awful detail.

“Physician stress and burnout is prevalent and increasing—some would say it has grown to the point of epidemic, even a threat to public health,” according to Mitchell Best, CEO of VITAL WorkLife. “There is an urgent need for healthcare organizations to recognize and address this crisis; initiatives are needed for physicians to feel understood and supported by their leadership and to develop greater well-being.”

And a lot more needs to be done to reverse the alarming trend—quickly. “Physicians are a precious resource and they are suffering,” explains Best. “To make matters worse, when physicians suffer, the downstream effects on patient safety and satisfaction, risk management, staff retention, and recruiting are immense.”

Here are 12 telling points gleaned from this recent survey of 2,000+ US physicians:

1. 88% of surveyed doctors admit to being moderately to severely stressed and/or burned out on an average day.

2. 66% of physicians are more stressed and/or burned out then when they were surveyed back in 2011.

3. The top 3 external causes of doctor’s stress/burnout are: health care reform (48%), Medicare/Medicaid policies (47%), and consolidations in the health care industry (30%).

4. The top 3 work-related causes of doctor’s stress/burnout are: paperwork and administrative demands (43%), too many work hours (28%), and compensation-related issues (28%).

5. The top 3 personal/life-related factors causing doctor stress/burnout are: general work/life balance concerns (57%), not enough time for exercise/wellness activities (46%), and not enough relaxation/leisure/recreational time (46%).

6. The top 3 impacts on the doctor’s work lives from stress/burnout are: lower job satisfaction (49%), desire to work fewer hours (42%), and desire to retire early (31%).

7. The top 3 impacts on the doctor’s personal lives from stress/burnout are: feelings of tiredness (44%), feelings of irritability and moodiness (33%), feelings of apathy or cynicism (29%).

8. 15% of surveyed doctors said they had left medical practice due to stress/burnout. Among those, 52% said their feelings of stress and/or burnout had improved; 35% said feelings had improved somewhat.

9. As to dealing with their stress/burnout, the top 5 things doctors do are: exercise (60%), spending time with family and friends (54%), taking vacation/time off (53%), sleeping more (40%), and watching movies or listening to music (37%).

10. As to organization-sponsored things to more effectively address stress/burnout, the top 3 things are: more time off or self-directed time (62%), more ancillary support (61%), and better understanding of challenges and support by administration (47%).

11. More than 85% of doctors said their affiliated organization does nothing to address stress/burnout. For those organizations that did help with doctor stress/burnout, the top 3 things they do are: wellness initiatives (52%), workshops and education (38%), and social events (33%).

12. Physicians said the top 5 things they felt that would help reduce stress/burnout in their lives are: better work/life balance (37%), improved financial compensation (34%), reduced malpractice/legal concerns (26%), better work hours/less on call time (25%), more personal control over their work (24%).

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