There’s an epidemic in U.S. healthcare: physicians are stressed and burned out.
Most of us who work in a high-pressure environment don’t make potentially life-altering decisions every day or worse—mistakes that can actually kill. Yet physicians, the last people we want to be stressed out, are experiencing burnout at unprecedented levels these days. In fact, data from the first study of its kind on the subject of physician burnout, shows that one out of every two doctors is experiencing it and it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Most doctors spend too much time being business people—and patient care suffers.
Dr. Tait D. Shanafelt, the lead author of the study and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota says, “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. These numbers speak to bigger problems in the larger health care environment.”
In his book, “Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician,” Sandeep Jauhar, M.D. says doctors just don’t have the time to do their jobs. Primary care physicians (doctors who Jauhar believes are most unhappy) spend an average of eight to 10 minutes per patient. And it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. With less time for each patient—studies show that rushed doctors listen less—relying on expensive tests, which don’t necessarily lead to more accurate diagnoses.
In the premiere issue of the journal Burnout Research, which is dedicated to research on the topic of physician stress, Anthony Montgomery, an associate professor in the Psychology of Work and Organizations in the University of Macedonia in Greece, focused on physician burnout, and argues that the way doctors are trained may set them up for a career of frustrations and high-stress situations. And the consequences may be hurting the care they provide patients. While doctors interact with people on a daily basis, their training and their worth as physicians are focused almost entirely on their technical capabilities, leaving them with few tools for understanding and navigating social interactions and for collaborating as part of a larger team or organization.
In 1973, fewer than 15% of physicians reported any doubts about career choices. Today nearly 40% say that they would not choose to enter the medical profession if given the opportunity to do it all over. And with a physician shortage looming, the last thing we need is for unhappy physicians to abandon the medical field.
The prevailing signs of physician burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion; depersonalization or a negative attitude about patients; and a reduced or low sense of personal accomplishment. So what’s a physician recruiter to do? Be their agent of change. There’s a reason more than half of physicians (52.6%) are now employed by a hospital or medical group: physicians want to spend more time caring for patients and less time advocating for the business of medicine. Your job can ensure your candidates are doing just that.
Next, remind your candidates why they became doctors in the first place. Dike Drummond, M.D., says one skill doctors are bringing to the fight is the “connection to why we are a doctor – to our purpose. The quality of this connection varies day-by-day, however it is a source of immense power and endurance when the connection is clear.”
Last, ensure your candidates are taking time for a break. Are they spending time with their family? Are they experiencing a work/life balance? If you think your candidates are experiencing burnout, remind them to ask for some help.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is addressing the issue with a Taking Care of Our Own Program that seeks to increase awareness, and provide education and treatment for distressed physicians. The program has had an over 200% rate of growth in the first year, reflecting the enormous need for this type of service. And they’re eager to collaborate with others who are interested in tackling these critical issues.
Are you working with facilities that offer programs to fight physician burnout? We’d love to hear your insights.