In healthcare, we talk a lot about the multiple crises of physician burnout, shortages, and workload. They’re very real.
But are they improving?
Gaining ground against such difficult battles can at times feel overwhelming. We expect a lot from our doctors. At the same time, doctors tend to have high expectations for themselves. Doing more with less is a way of life. Whether right or wrong, it has been and will continue to be the reality for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, most, if not all, of our doctors rise to that challenge.
Workloads are heavy but improving
In all my years of working in healthcare, I’ve never met a doctor who wished they could spend more time doing paperwork. Every doctor wants more quality time working directly with patients. And that seems to be improving.
Today, 46% of physicians say they’re spending less time with patients versus the 58% who made the same claim in 2016.
Additionally, while 55% of doctors feel like they have less free time outside of work, that number has dropped from 64% in 2016. It’s a similar decline for doctors who feel they are overworked.
Burnout continues to be a problem
Those numbers are encouraging. But there’s clearly still room for improvement. Especially because burnout has such an impact on a doctor‘s job satisfaction.
However, what’s rarely discussed is how few doctors recognize burnout in themselves.
For instance, this study reports that 85% of emergency medicine physicians say they “frequently see symptoms of burnout” in their colleagues, but only 54% think they experience it themselves. It gives weight to the idea that burnout is someone else’s problem, I’m just really busy. This discrepancy follows suit for all specialties studied.
The symptoms that physicians are seeing in their colleagues are:
- Irritability toward coworkers (59%)
- Apathy toward patients (57%)
- Chronic fatigue (54%)
- Anxiety (46%)
- Anger (44%)
- Depression (37%)
- Insomnia (35%)
But we fail to admit that burnout is affecting us personally.
Doctors are unlikely to talk about mental health
Which reinforces a very interesting point this study reveals: 53% of doctors feel mental health is a taboo topic. Also, only 17% of doctors have actually met with a mental health professional to address their individual mental/emotional challenges.
So, taking the emergency medicine example mentioned earlier, 85% of EM docs see the impact of burnout in others, but 55% of them would not be open to discussing mental health with a professional. For all specialties reporting, 67% have not and would not consider seeing a mental health professional.
That is significant.
Furthermore, 42% of doctors do not want access to a mental health professional in their workplace.
The options for combating workload burnout
As an industry, we can continue to try to make improvements on a macro level. And in some ways, we’ve made progress. But the real battle might be at the individual level. Or at least, more so than we thought.
Of course, mental health is just one way to combat burnout. It’s not the silver bullet, but it is definitely something I think is worth studying more.
There are plenty of other things doctors can do to keep their spirits high and passions alive.
The number one method doctors turn to for coping with burnout is taking time off (68%). Close behind is spending time with friends and family (67%) and exercise (63%).
In our business, we work with a lot of physicians who use locum tenens to cut down the stress and hassles of the job. Removing unnecessary meetings, office politics, and some of the bureaucracy goes a long way to making work days feel a little freer. Especially when a benefit of locums is more quality time with patients.
When it comes to your individual battle with burnout, the key is to recognize the signs and do what works best for you. Talk to your peers, speak with your employers, and be open. We’re all behind you and wish you a long, happy career.