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Job burnout high among US physicians reports new survey

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
physician job burnout, job satisfaction, family physicians, emergency physicians

In the past, job satisfaction was high among doctors. Many worked long hours; however, they found their career be rewarding. That appears to have change, according to a new survey; it notes that job burnout impacts physicians more often than it does other employed individuals in the US. The study was published online on August 20 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers note that despite extensive data about physician burnout, to the best of their knowledge, no national study has evaluated rates of burnout among US physicians, explored differences by specialty, or compared physicians with US workers in other fields. Therefore, they conducted a national study of burnout in a large sample of US physicians in all specialties. They accessed the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile and surveyed a probability-based sample of the general US population for comparison. Burnout was measured using validated research methodology; in addition, satisfaction with work-life balance was explored.

A total of 27,276 physicians received an invitation to participate; of that group, 7,288 (26.7%) completed surveys. The physicians were assessed using the Maslach Burnout Inventory. The researchers found that 45.8% of physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout. Of the respondents, 38% had high emotional exhaustion scores, which is akin to losing enthusiasm for their job; 38% had high depersonalization scores, which translates into viewing patients more like objects than human beings; and 46% had at least one of the two symptoms. The study authors noted that substantial differences in burnout were observed by specialty, with the highest rates among physicians at the front line of care access: family medicine, general internal medicine, and emergency medicine. Compared with a probability-based sample of 3,442 working US adults, physicians were more likely to have symptoms of burnout (37.9% vs. 27.8%) and to be dissatisfied with work-life balance (40.2% vs. 23.2%). The highest level of education completed also related to burnout in a pooled multivariate analysis adjusted for age, sex, relationship status, and hours worked per week. (Multivariate analysis is based on the statistical principle of multivariate statistics, which involves observation and analysis of more than one statistical variable at a time. The technique takes into account the effects of all variables on the responses of interest.)

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The researchers found that, compared with high school graduates, individuals with an MD or DO degree were at increased risk for burnout (1.36-fold greater risk), whereas individuals with a bachelor's degree 0.80-fold), master's degree (0.71-fold), or professional or doctoral degree other than an MD or DO degree (0.64-fold) were at lower risk for burnout.

The authors concluded that burnout is more common among physicians than among other US workers. Physicians in specialties at the front line of care access appeared to be at greatest risk.

Reference: Archives of Internal medicine

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