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Dive Brief:

  • The rate of physician burnout in the U.S. more than doubled during the first years of the pandemic, with physicians reporting higher levels of exhaustion and cynicism and lower levels of personal efficacy in 2021 compared to 2019, according to a study published on Friday in JAMA Network Open.
  • Burnout levels varied by demographic, with female physicians, less experienced physicians and primary care physicians reporting higher levels of burnout than male physicians, more tenured clinicians or internal medicine providers. 
  • Professional factors can insulate physicians from burnout, the study concluded. Physicians who spent less time on administrative tasks, worked in roles outside of primary care and those who were more highly compensated were less likely to report high levels of burnout. 

Dive Insight:

Physician burnout is defined as a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress in the workplace, according to the study. 

Prior to the pandemic, burnout expenses related to physician turnover were projected to cost health systems $4.6 billion annually.

Burnout has increased since the start of the pandemic as providers coped with higher workloads and reported hostile work environments. Many physicians have left the profession as a result, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to issue an advisory last year declaring that combating provider burnout must be a priority for healthcare systems.

The JAMA study surveyed the same 1,373 physician faculty members of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization in 2017, 2019 and 2021. The survey found that over a quarter of physicians experienced burnout each year, while over 35% did not experience high burnout in any year.

Certain providers were more likely to experience burnout. Female physicians and primary care physicians were more likely than male physicians and internal medicine physicians to report high exhaustion scores. Primary care physicians also expressed more cynicism about their work.

The study echoes previous research. Over 60% of primary care providers in a July survey said the field was “crumbling” amidst staffing shortages. Only 1% of PCPs surveyed felt their practice had fully recovered from the impacts of the pandemic, and nearly 80% felt the current workforce was undersized to meet patient needs.


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