Survey Says

Measuring physician burnout

Amanda Greene, Survey Solutions

This fall, The New York Times, The Atlantic and TIME each published articles highlighting the growing awareness and effects of physician burnout. The articles stemmed from a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine which concluded that almost half of physicians experience at least one symptom of burnout.

Physician burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, detachment from patient care, and lack of career satisfaction. These symptoms are frightening for both physicians and patients. Physicians experiencing burnout are more likely to misdiagnose patients and to retire earlier because they are dissatisfied with their career in medicine.

The most common tool for measuring physician burnout is the Maslach Index—burnout levels are calculated based on the frequency of physicians' self-reported levels of burnout symptoms.

After the Archives of Internal Medicine study was published, I received emails from CMOs asking if we could leverage their surveys to help them capture, evaluate and reduce the level of physician burnout at their organizations.

Our survey allows organizations to add up to ten custom questions to the standard survey set. After researching different ways to measure burnout, we recommended that our members add the following 3 questions:

  • I feel that my professional work satisfaction has greatly increased since starting at this organization.
  • I feel emotionally drained from my work.
  • My work schedule leaves me enough time for my personal/family life.

We decided to focus on measuring career satisfaction and emotional exhaustion because these are areas where organizations can actively support physicians to alleviate feelings of burnout. For example:

  • If professional satisfaction levels are declining, an organization can invite physicians to participate in leadership committees, so that physicians feel that they have a hand in defining how the organization will evolve to meet the demands of the changing healthcare landscape.
  • If physicians indicate that they struggle to find work-life balance, an organization can conduct a feedback session to learn what processes take up large percentages of physicians’ workdays. If a significant chunk of physicians’ time is spent overseeing and facilitating patient transfers, the organization can identify areas where wasted effort related to patient transfers exists. Patients’ care plans can be altered to minimize handoffs and lessen physician workloads.

Physician burnout and physician engagement are at odds with other. It’s highly unlikely that a stressed physician will be invested in an organization’s success. Organizations that acknowledge and address burnout are taking a step in the right direction by signifying their commitment to physicians’ well-being.

Has physician burnout been a hot topic at your organization? What steps are you taking to ensure that physicians don’t suffer from job-related fatigue? Please leave a comment or email Amanda Greene at with your thoughts.