Physician Burnout as an Epidemic
A 2019 survey published by Medscape shows the severity of burnout and mental health issues that doctors are facing. Physicians have the highest suicide rate of any other profession, with one doctor a day committing suicide in the United States. However, when asked, responses showed that the majority of physicians are not seeking help for burnout and depression. One doctor notes how “medical training teaches us [physicians] to ‘suck it up,’ so help-seeking is not a well-honed skill among doctors” . Moreover, the survey shows that some physicians who have sought help have done so in secret, by traveling a distance away from home, not using insurance, and even using fake names. Of those who have not sought out help, 20% admitted that they “don’t want to risk disclosure,” fearing that their career could be in jeopardy . Furthermore, over two thirds of physicians dealing with depression find that their mental health affects their workplace attitude . In just six years, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates a shortage of 90,000 physicians across the United States, due to physician burnout .
These horrifying statistics beg the question: why is the medical system leading physicians to these results? The Harvard Global Health Institute published a 2018 report highlighting the causes of physician burnout, at the root of which is the fact that physicians have become increasingly responsible for work tasks that diverge from their ultimate mission of treating patients . The biggest example of this is the use of electronic health records (EHR), which have become a time burden on physicians throughout the work day. The report mainly focuses on methods to combat physician burnout on a systemic level. These methods include improving the effectiveness of EHRs, assigning executive-level chief wellness officers at healthcare organizations, and making available mental health treatment for physicians . Yet, clearing the stigma of physicians seeking mental healthcare still has a long way to go.
Physicians are trained to take care of others, even at their own expense. However, increased physician burnout leads to medical errors and patients feeling unhappy with doctor visits, unsurprisingly indicating that physicians are unable to do their best work when they are feeling unwell. It is beyond unreasonable to expect an individual on the front line of healthcare to care for others when that same individual is in need of medical attention. Healthcare organizations must take action to address this crisis of physician burnout by implementing methods that will foster better mental health and allow increased physician satisfaction in the workplace.
Leslie Kane, “Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019”, Medscape, January 16, 2019.
Jha, A.K., Iliff, A.R., Chaoui, A.A., Defossez, S., Bombaugh, M.C., Miller, Y.R., “A Crisis in Healthcare: A Call to Action on Physician Burnout”, Harvard Global Health Institute, 2018.