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Burnout holding steady, not in a good way


Physicians Foundation announces survey results as Dr. Lorna Breen Foundation works to expand mental health care access.

© The Physicians Foundation

© The Physicians Foundation

Despite increased awareness of burnout, physician work conditions are not getting better quickly.

And without further action, the future may not be bright – medical students report burnout at higher rates than doctors and residents.

The Physicians Foundation announced its “2023 Survey of America’s Current and Future Physicians.” While the news is not cheery, the Foundation and the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation have renewed emphasis on “Vital Signs: The Campaign to Prevent Physician Suicide.” The findings and initiative were announced leading up to National Physician Suicide Awareness Day (NPSA Day) on Sept. 17.

“Our country and health care system has been through a tremendous amount of stress and change in recent years,” Physicians Foundation President Gary Price, MD, MBA, said in a news release. “We’re seeing how the pandemic, staff shortages, healthcare consolidation and more are exacerbating a system that already needed to see change and causing record levels of burnout.

“The Foundation’s latest survey demonstrates these impacts on both current and future physicians, signifying that systemic change must happen now to help improve the future of medicine,” Price said. “This NPSA Day and beyond, we hope that everyone will join us in our urgent call to support physicians in creating a health care system that is strong and sustainable.”

Burnout isn’t budging

Feelings of burnout remain in a majority of physicians (58%), residents (61%), and medical students (71%), according to The Physicians Foundation.

Among medical students, 45% know a colleague or peer who has considered suicide – a “shocking” proportion compared to residents (38%) and physicians (36%), according to the Foundation.

There have been efforts to alleviate work conditions that contribute to burnout, and to promote mental health awareness and accessibility for physicians. But solid majorities of physicians (78%), residents (79%), and med students (76%) agree there is stigma surrounding physicians seeking mental health care, according to the results.

Even so, residents and medical students reported they know suicidal warning signs – 83% and 77%, respectively, compared to 71% of physicians. Residents and med students also reported checking in with colleagues experiencing mental distress – 63% and 67%, respectively, compared to 35% of physicians.

Encouraging change

The Physicians Foundation and the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation launched Dear FutureDoc, campaign to encourage medical students to consider their own mental health and well-being and support each other. Free online items include Note to Self, Note to Others, and a Selfie Sign to create note cards and social media posts that encourage personal and systemic well-being in the future.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation also has a new medical student coalition “to empower medical students to reflect on the challenges that they face and the solutions that they need,” said Corey Feist, JD, Foundation cofounder and president.

“Ensuring the wellbeing of physicians, medical students and residents demands cultural and systemic changes,” Feist said in a news release. “We envision a future where seeking mental health services is universally viewed as a sign of strength for the physicians of today and tomorrow.”

The Foundation is named for Dr. Lorna Breen, an emergency physician in New York who lost her life to suicide after working on the front line in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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