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Are Our Nation’s Doctors Burned Out?

August 31, 2012

While job burnout can affect workers in any field, the medical profession is at special risk. The New York Times article, “The Widespread Problem of Doctor Burnout,” addresses a frightening issue that has become a trend among our nations doctors. With 8 years of education beyond high school, 3-8 years of internship and residency, and a long work hours day and night, it’s not all that shocking.

A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine surveyed 7,288 physicians in June 2011 and found that nearly 1 in 2 U.S. physicians report at least one symptom of burnout, with doctors at the front line of care (family medicine, general internal medicine, and emergency medicine) particularly vulnerable. The findings showed that the doctors burnout rate is significantly higher than the general working population.

“We’re not talking about a few individuals who are disorganized or not functioning well under pressure; we’re talking about one out of every two doctors who have already survived rigorous training,” said Dr. Tait D. Shanafelt, the lead author of the study and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “These numbers speak to bigger problems in the larger health care environment.”

The article illustrates the story of a patient who may have been misdiagnosed for a pinched nerve  in his arm by a potentially burnt out senior doctor. Two weeks later, a younger doctor diagnosed him with cancer. Dr. Shaneflt explains that feelings of exhaustion or burnout can result in medical errors by doctors, or at the very least, lack of compassion for the patients they treat.

While the root of the problem could come from any number of things: the extensive schooling, long work hours, work vs. life balance, or the pressures of our new health care model, it is a critical issue that needs immediate attention.

“If people work in an environment where they believe there is meaning, they will put up with a lot,” Dr. Shanafelt observed. “It goes beyond the significant personal consequences for an individual physician. It affects whom patients can see when they are sick, the quality of care they receive and their safety. Read More…



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