COVID-19 drives physician burnout for some specialties


Administrative tasks fuel burnout

The top driver of burnout continues to be “too many administrative tasks.” This year, 58% put it at the top. The next highest categories (named by 37%) were “spending too many hours at work” and “lack of respect from administrators/employers, colleagues or staff.” Others mentioned lack of control or insufficient compensation and government regulations.

Notably, only 8% said stress from treating COVID-19 patients was the top driver.

An internist said, “I’m working 6 days a week, nights, weekends, holidays!”

A general surgeon said, “Being forced to see four patients an hour when complicated patients and procedures are involved” was the biggest contributor to burnout.

One physician in the survey summarized it: “It’s all of these causes; it’s death by 1,000 cuts.”

Exercise tops coping list

Asked how they cope with stress and burnout, physicians put exercise at the top (48%). Next was talking with family and friends (43%), though 43% said they cope by isolating themselves.

Drinking alcohol and overeating junk food were up slightly in the past year: for alcohol, 26%, up from 24%; for junk food, 35%, up from 33%.

The action respondents said would help most to reduce burnout was “increased compensation to avoid financial stress,” chosen by 45%. Next, at 42%, was “more manageable work and schedule,” followed by greater respect from employers, colleagues, and staff (39%).

Asked whether their workplace offered programs to reduce stress and/or burnout, almost half (47%) of physicians said no; 35% said yes; and 18% didn’t know.

Participation in such programs has been low. Almost half (42%) of physicians in this survey said they would be unlikely to attend such a program. Thirty percent they would be likely to participate; 28% said they were neutral on the idea.

“Anti-stress/burnout programs focus on individual approaches to much larger problems,” Wendy K. Dean, MD, psychiatrist and president of Moral Injury of Healthcare, said in an interview. “The programs offer temporary symptomatic relief rather than lasting systemic change. Many physicians are frustrated by these approaches.”

A study last year by the Mayo Clinic found that “the most efficacious strategy to alleviate physician burnout will target organization-directed changes rather than the level of the individual.”

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.


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