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February 23, 2022

Charted: An inside look at physician burnout

Daily Briefing

    More physicians are now reporting feeling burned out, according to Medscape's 2022 Physician Burnout & Depression report, but many of the causes driving burnout surprisingly aren't pandemic-related.

    Why we're more worried than ever about a physician exodus 

    Physician burnout during the pandemic

    For the report, researchers surveyed 13,069 physicians across 29 specialties between June 29, 2021, and Sept. 26, 2021, to assess their experiences with burnout, stress, and more.

    Of the physicians surveyed, 47% reported feeling burned out—an increase from the 42% who said the same a year prior. "Although the pandemic has been incredibly challenging for physicians, the second year—when society reopened—proved more difficult to navigate," said Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape Business of Medicine.

    The report also found gender differences when it came to burnout rates, with female physicians being more likely to report feeling burned out (56%) than male physicians (41%).

    Rates of burnout also varied by specialty, with emergency medicine physicians reporting the highest rate at 60%. According to Medscape, this was a significant jump from last year when 43% of emergency medicine physicians reported experiencing burnout. The specialties with the next highest rates were critical care, obstetrics and gynecology, infectious disease, and family medicine.

    Where a physician works also affected their feelings of stress and burnout. In particular, physicians who work at outpatient clinics were most likely to report feeling burned out (58%), followed by those at health care organizations (50%) and hospitals (48%).

    When asked about what contributed to their burnout, 60% of physicians cited too many bureaucratic tasks, such as charting and paperwork. According to Medscape, bureaucratic tasks have consistently topped the list of burnout causes. Other significant causes of burnout include lack of respect from administrators, colleagues, or staff, as well as too many hours at work.

    In addition, more than 75% of physicians said their burnout has had at least a moderate impact on their lives, and 68% said burnout has negatively affected their relationships. According to one physician surveyed, they now "have little motivation to reach out to others," and "[their] patience is decreased" while "[their] irritability has increased."

    To cope with burnout, 48% of physicians said they exercised, while 45% said they isolated themselves from others and 41% said they talked with family members or close friends.

    How to reduce burnout, according to physicians

    Physicians also pinpointed specific work-related actions that could help alleviate their feelings of burnout and stress. Of the physicians surveyed, 39% said a more manageable work schedule would help reduce their burnout, and 38% said increased compensation would help.

    Notably, 15% of physicians said a new job would help reduce their feelings of burnout, mirroring other research that suggests a significant number of physicians and other health care workers are now considering leaving their jobs. (Carbajal, Becker's Hospital Review, 2/21; Kane, Medscape's National Burnout & Depression Report 2022, 1/21; Hurt, Medscape, 1/21; Kelly, Healthcare Dive, 1/24)

    Access our resources to kickstart workforce recovery

    ImageLooking for help to support employees' emotional well-being, help clinicians navigate moral distress, or hone your own leadership shadow? Explore our starter list of resources below.

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