I love being a Doctor. There isn’t anything else I could possibly imagine myself doing. It is an incredibly rewarding profession and I am honored that my patients entrust their health to me. That being said, there is another side to medicine. This is the issue of Physician burnout. To be honest, I never thought it was a major problem until I started seeing it in my colleagues and even myself.
If you look at the statistics on Physician burnout, they are staggering. Over three-quarters of 13,575 Physicians surveyed reported being somewhat pessimistic or very pessimistic about the future of the medical profession. One-third of them stated they would not choose medicine if they had to do it all over again. In fact, 57.9% said they would not recommend medicine as a career to others. The most astonishing statistic is that over 400 physicians commit suicide each year. That is the equivalent of an entire medical school class.
If you ask doctors what is causing the burnout, they have a laundry list of issues ranging from the high volume of patients, long hours, paperwork, bureaucracy, sleep deprivation, constant stress, daily confrontations with life and death and lots more. All these issues translate into a constellation of emotional exhaustion, detachment and a low sense of accomplishment.
As I start to think about ideas on preventing the burnout epidemic, it is clear that we need a paradigm shift in medicine. We need to return the sense of autonomy to physicians. Instead of micro-managing our every action with dozens of isolated metrics, let us be judged on the quality of health of our patients. Let us make the right decisions for our patients’ health. Physicians need intellectual stimulation. Turning things into repetitive tasks takes the joy and purpose out of medicine.
There is no magic pill that will fix the burnout epidemic but it’s time to start having open and honest discussions about it. Ultimately, Physician burnout doesn’t just hurt the doctor, it also leads to poor patient care.
- The Physicians Foundation Survey. September 2012. http://www.physiciansfoundation.org/uploads/default/Physicians_Foundation_2012_Biennial_Survey.pdf
- Shanafelt T, Boone S, Tan L, et al. Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance Among US Physicians Relative to the General US Population. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(18):1377-1385. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3199.
- Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us
- The Painful Truth: Physicians Are Not Invincible
- Why doctors commit suicide
- How to get naked with your doctor: Dr. Pamela Wible at TEDxSalem