Despite prevalence, few institutions have formal programs for addressing burnout.
Doctors and their employers agree that physician burnout has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they disagree over the reasons.
That is among the findings to emerge from a recent survey of physicians and health care administrators regarding levels of physician burnout, its causes, and physician satisfaction with their job and employer. The survey of 354 administrators and 66 employers was sponsored jointly by Jackson Physician Search and the Medical Group Management Association.
Asked if they are experiencing burnout—which the survey defined as “the long-term, cumulative stress and depersonalization that doctors experience amid growing burdens in the practice of medicine—65% of the physicians “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed, up from 61% in 2021. Asked if doctors at their institution were burning out, 73% of administrators or managers strongly or somewhat agreed, compared with 68% last year.
When it comes to the reasons for burnout, however, the views of doctors and administrators diverged. Forty percent of doctors said their employer was either entirely to blame for their burnout or bore more of the blame than the general nature of a physician’s work. But only 19% of administrators or managers ascribed physician burnout to those two causes.
Regardless of the reasons for their feelings of burnout, a slight majority of respondents (51%) said they had considered leaving to work for a new health care employer during the past year, while 41% said they had thought about leaving medicine to work in a different field, and 36% had thought about early retirement. In a poll taken earlier in 2022 by MGMA and the website Stat, 40% of medical practices said they had a physician who resigned or retired early during the past year due to burnout.
Physician retention programs were another area of disagreement between doctors and administrators highlighted by the survey. When asked if their employer organization has a formal physician retention/engagement program, 8% of doctors said yes, 70% said no, and 22% weren’t sure. By contrast, 19% of administrators or managers said their organization had such a program, while 54% said theirs did not, and 27% weren’t sure.
When it comes to reducing burnout, a 2021 MGMA Stat survey found it to be a low priority, with 86% of health care leaders reporting they had no formal plan or strategy for it. Programs that did exist were in the form of:
The survey concludes by noting that “awareness [of burnout] alone will not prevent physicians from exiting the profession in the coming years. It will require empathy and organizational efforts to restore professional relationships that make high-quality care delivery a sustainable reality, producing healthier outcomes and margins in the process.