Half of nation's docs suffering burnout

The number of doctors suffering burnout from their job is higher than ever. photo credit: basketman The number of doctors suffering burnout from their job is higher than ever. photo credit: basketman

Employee stress isn’t rare, but doctors may be faring the worst of all of us workers. New research finds that physicians are burning out “at an alarming level.”

And with an abundance of new patients under health reform, matters will only be made worse.

According to Mayo Clinic research, nearly half (46 percent) of all doctors say they're currently experiencing either emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or a low sense of personal accomplishment. A third show signs of depression and 6 percent say they’ve considered suicide in the past year.

The new findings, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, are based on a survey of 7,288 physicians conducted in June 2011. Doctors answered 22 questions about their hours, their satisfaction levels and depression symptoms, among others.

Not only does this alarming information mean doctors are at risk for personal problems, but for their patients as well, the findings suggest. Job-related fatigue can compromise medical care, increase medical errors and translate to doctors leaving the medical field.

[See "Health reform driving away doctors in droves"]

Study author Dr. Tait Shanafelt of the Mayo Clinic says the doctor burnout level is higher than ever before. Physicians in emergency medicine, general internal medicine and family medicine fared worst.

Shanafelt says that’s concerning because the success of health reform is tied to the increasing role of primary care doctors.

Doctors practicing pathology, dermatology, general pediatrics and preventive medicine (including occupational health and environmental medicine) had the lowest rates of burnout.

Researchers also compared physician burnout to other worker burnout. Less than 30 percent of the general public experience burnout.

That may in part be due to the fact that doctors work longer hours than most others. Almost 40 percent of doctors report working at least 60 hours a week, compared to only 10 percent of the general population.

Docs also aren’t happy about their work-life balance, saying their jobs didn’t leave enough time for a personal life or family.



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