Physician burnout is worse than ever in 2023. And burnout isn’t just bad for providers; it’s also taking a toll on patients, families, and healthcare systems.
But exactly how many physicians are burned out? How many are depressed? Which physicians are most affected? And what causes physician burnout?
This article will answer your questions about physician burnout by summarizing data from Medscape’s latest Physician Burnout & Depression Report.
What is physician burnout?
Physician burnout is a long-term stress reaction that causes providers to lose satisfaction and a sense of efficacy in their work.
Psychologist Christina Maslach first defined three diagnostic symptoms of physician burnout in the 1970s:
- Exhaustion – You experience emotional and physical fatigue and think, “I’m not sure how long I can keep doing this.”
- Compassion fatigue – You are frustrated by patients and families and have thoughts like, “I can’t believe they talked to me that way.”
- Lack of efficacy – You begin to doubt that you are making a difference and wonder, “What’s the use?”
Burnout symptoms can be emotional, physical, or behavioral. You might feel less interested in work, experience tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest, or find yourself withdrawing from community involvement.
If you think you or your colleagues are experiencing burnout, you might benefit from AMA’s recovery plan for physician burnout. If you are depressed, talk to your regular healthcare provider or seek mental health support.
The state of physician burnout in 2023
Each year, Medscape releases a physician burnout and depression report. We’ve summarized the information below from the 2023 report, which surveyed 9,175 US-based physicians in 29 specialties. You can download the full report from Medscape.com.
Here are seven facts about physician burnout in 2023.
1) 53% of physicians say they are burned out
The number of burned-out physicians is higher than before the pandemic. In Medscape’s 2023 survey, 53% of physicians say they are burned out, compared to 42% in 2018.
2) 23% of physicians say they are depressed
Self-reported rates of depression are also up from 2018 when just 15% of physicians said they were depressed.
Of the nearly one in four physicians who say they are depressed, 24% experience clinical depression (severe depression lasting some time, not caused by a normal grief event). The remainder says they simply feel down or sad.
3) Burnout affects female physicians more than male physicians
Burnout doesn’t affect all physicians equally.
For example, 63% of women reported burnout in Medscape’s latest survey, compared to just 46% of men. Many factors cause this discrepancy, but one is mistreatment. Studies have shown clear links between race- and gender-based microaggressions in healthcare and workplace distress.
4) Self-employed physicians report less burnout
Physician burnout is also not evenly distributed by work setting.
Providers who work in outpatient clinics and office-based multispecialty group practices report the most burnout (57%), followed closely by those working in hospitals (55%).
By comparison, just 43% of providers who work in office-based solo practices say they are burned out. Self-employed say they like having autonomy and control over their productivity, while burns out hospitalists often cite lack of control as a chief complaint.
5) Physicians blame bureaucratic tasks, lack of respect from coworkers, and long hours
What contributes to physician burnout? Every year Medscape asks this question, and the top three factors remain surprisingly consistent. Doctors say they feel burned out because of the following:
- Too many bureaucratic tasks
- Lack of respect from coworkers
- Too many work hours
Respondents also say that insufficient compensation, lack of autonomy, EHRs, and lack of respect from patients cause burnout, among other factors.
6) Doctors spend nearly 10 hours a week completing EHR documentation
Physicians don’t cite EHRs as the leading cause of burnout, but it’s clear that documentation is one cause of doctors’ dissatisfaction.
7) Only 13% of physicians have sought professional help
Over half of physicians are burned out, but only 13% have sought professional health. Many doctors believe they can deal with it themselves and that professionals have nothing to add.
What solutions help with physician burnout?
If you experience burnout, you can learn from the solutions and coping mechanisms others use.
Coping mechanisms can be unhealthy, such as eating junk food, binge eating, or drinking alcohol. While some physicians use these coping tactics, most report healthy coping tactics such as:
- Exercise (50%)
- Talking with family or friends (45%)
- Sleep (41%)
- Spending time alone (40%)
Workplace measures also have an essential role to play in alleviating physician burnout. Providers say the most helpful actions would be increased compensation, more manageable work schedules, and more support staff.
There is also growing discussion about a physician union as a last-ditch way to get healthcare management and ownership to pay more attention to physicians’ challenges. In the Medscape report, half of respondents said a union would help combat burnout, and about a third said they were unsure.
The good news is that healthcare workplaces are taking note. In the Medscape survey, nearly half of respondents said their workplace offers a program to reduce stress or burnout.
However, it still isn’t clear whether these programs are effective at reducing burnout. One recent study concluded that workplaces with wellness programs had a higher percentage of employees who exercised and watched their weight but found no significant differences in clinical markers of health, healthcare spending, absenteeism, or job performance.