Burnout usually occurs when a person completes higher education. But that’s not the case for physicians, as having a medical degree is a predictor of physician burnout. And while the burnout rate among physicians nationwide is moving in the right direction — from 54.4% in 2014 to 43.9% in 2017 — it remains higher than the general workforce, according to a presentation by Michael A. Tutty, PhD, vice president. President of the AMA’s Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability group, at the 2021 Federation of State Physician Health Programs Virtual Education Conference and Annual Business Meeting.
That’s because there is something unique about medicine that contributes to increased levels of exhaustion and depersonalization. It’s the burden of the EHR and the amount of “pyjama time,” or work after work, that contribute to physician burnout.
To that end, solving physician burnout needs to go beyond individual solutions to improve resilience. Instead, the broken healthcare system needs to be repaired. Here’s how.
Without fixing the system that plagues doctors, many have chosen to reduce the number of hours worked per week. While this drop in hours may improve burnout, medicine is struggling with a shortage of doctors. But leaving the workforce or reducing hours won’t solve the bigger problem.
For example, if a doctor’s workplace causes burnout, she will experience a lack of autonomy and control. In other words, the doctor may often feel that she has no say in her work. And while teaching yoga can help on an individual level, it doesn’t fix the system — it’s just a band-aid.
The problems at the institutional level and at the health system level must be solved. But that doesn’t mean that individuals don’t need mental health care or help. That’s where physician health programs are critical to providing the confidential support they need.
Learn how reducing burnout requires commitment from the entire health system.
There are two physician populations during the pandemic: those who were in early hotspots and those who saw a rise in COVID-19 cases only later. They worked huge hours for doctors in early COVID-19 hotspots. They were also stressed about the early shortage of personal protective equipment, contracting SARS-CoV-2 and uncertainty about the best treatment for patients with COVID-19. It all made sense.
Physicians who didn’t see early peaks, such as those in New York or Washington, still experienced a lot of stress because they had already shortened their elective procedures in preparation. In turn, patient volumes and revenues plummeted, health care systems experienced time off work and small practices struggled to keep up with payroll.
Find out why health organizations should be committed to fighting physician burnout.
While nearly 30% of all physicians experienced high stress related to COVID-19 and 29% had significant work overload, 46% of physicians had an improved sense of meaning and purpose during the pandemic. More than half even felt valued by their organization.
Despite it being a crisis, organizations dived deeper into the core values of being a health professional and caring for people when they are sick. Building a resilient organization before, during and after a crisis is central here.
Read about four steps health systems can take to increase resilience to a pandemic.
Committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied issues that cause and fuel burnout in physicians — including time constraints, technology and regulations — to better understand the challenges physicians face and and is currently addressing it. By focusing on factors that cause system-level burnout, the AMA assesses an organization’s well-being and provides guidance and targeted solutions to support physician well-being and satisfaction.
The AMA provides resources to help physicians manage their own mental health and wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic and provides practical health system leadership strategies to consider in support of their physicians and healthcare teams during COVID-19.