Quick Study: Almost Half of Doctors Say They’re Burned Out

Physicians are more exhausted than the general population, and burnout levels vary by medical specialty.

Doctors might suffer higher levels of burnout than the rest of us, and they may also unhappier with their work-life balance. (Photo: Mehmed Zelkovic/Getty Images)

Aug 23, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

The study: A survey of almost 7,300 physicians in the U.S. finds that burnout rates are high, and may be higher than among the general population. A study published online this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that almost half of doctors (45.8 percent) said they had at least one symptom of burnout. Nearly 38 percent of doctors have high emotional exhaustion, almost 30 percent had high levels of depersonalization (treating people like objects, having less empathy) and about 12 percent had a low sense of personal accomplishment. About 40 percent were unhappy with their work-life balance.

Compared to about 3,400 working people in the general population, physicians were more likely to be burned out and were less satisfied with their work-life balance.

Doctors in certain specialties (emergency medicine, neurology, family medicine) had higher overall burnout rates compared with those working in other areas (pathology, dermatology, general pediatrics).

MORE: Should You Trust Your Doctor?

What we already know: Physician burnout is a much-discussed and debated subject—do an Internet search on the topic and you’ll be busy for hours. Several studies have focused on burnout among medical professionals: a 2009 paper in Annals of Surgery found that among nearly 8,000 physicians, 30 percent screened positive for depression symptoms. This current study noted that the consequences of burnout can be serious: alcohol abuse, shattered relationships and thoughts of suicide.

What it means for you: Our first reaction may be boo-frickin’-hoo—we’re all burned out, aren’t we? But let’s consider that these are the people overseeing our health, perhaps doling out medicine or performing surgery. The study authors argue that since burnout is so prevalent, the problem may lie in how our healthcare systems are run, and that policy makers and health organizations need to focus on the problem for the sake of both doctor and patient.

Do you think doctors are more burned out than the rest of us? Let us know in the comments.

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