A study conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita found that nearly half of Wichita-area physicians are experiencing signs of burnout, which is associated with symptoms of depression, fatigue, suicidal ideation, and intentions to leave the medical profession via early retirement or career change.
Lead researchers Samuel Ofei-Dodoo, PhD, MPH, CPH, an assistant professor and researcher at KUSM-W in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, and Rick Kellerman, MD, professor and chair of Family Community Medicine, presented their findings at an MSSC membership meeting on May 7. The other co-authors of the study are Karissa Gilchrist, MD, and Eastin Casey, MD, both family medicine residents.
The study, published this month in the Kansas Journal of Medicine, was conducted among MSSC members, who represent more than 90% of practicing physicians in Sedgwick County. The survey found that 49.5% of respondents exhibited signs of burnout, which is a higher rate than physicians nationally.
According to a February study conducted by the American Medical Association, the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University School of Medicine, the U.S. physician burnout rate was 43.9% in 2017 – down from 54.4% in 2014 and 45.5% in 2011.
“Job burnout is an experience, not a diagnosis, in response to chronic job stress,” Ofei-Dodoo said. “It is more of a red flag, a warning signal telling you there is this disconnect between the person and the job environment.”
Another study by Ofei-Dodoo and colleagues also looked at burnout rates among medical residents and found that 51.1% residents in KUSM-W programs reported manifestations of burnout.
Research has said burnout manifests itself in three different dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness, or inefficacy. The statistics are worrisome, Ofei-Dodoo said, because burnout among health care professionals is associated with several safety or life-changing issues, including:
- A decrease in the quality of patient care
- An increase in the number of medical errors
- An elevated risk of suicidal thoughts and depression
- Substance use disorder
- A stronger desire or intention to get out of the medical profession altogether
The Wichita study found that nearly 85% of physicians felt their overall quality of life was good or very good, but that nearly half the respondents reported high emotional exhaustion and/or screened positive for depression.
While national burnout rates have lowered in recent years, the relatively high numbers nationally and in Wichita suggest there is work to be done to better understand the causes and solutions to burnout, not only to increase physician satisfaction and well-being, but also to increase safety for the patients they serve.
“Given this evidence, physician burnout threatens the safety and effectiveness of the U.S. medical system,” the authors wrote.
There are a number of possible causes of burnout among physicians, including a work-life imbalance, difficult patients, unrealistic expectations – both personally and professionally – and system issues such as inefficient EMR requirements and ubiquitous paperwork.
Ofei-Dodoo and Kellerman also found that KUSM students experience a high rate of burnout as well, long before they are practicing physicians, ranging from 22% for first-year students to 65% for fourth-year medical students.
“I’m a believer the EMR has contributed to physician stress and burnout,” Kellerman said. “But the medical student findings make me think there is something in our culture, something in our internal personalities as physicians, which contributes to our distress.”
So what are potential solutions to a consistently high burnout rate among physicians?
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to high burnout rate given that it’s an experience and not a diagnosis,” Ofei-Dodoo said. But research shows there are some things physicians can do to enhance well-being.
“Physician participation in activities that promote wellness, such as exercise and mindfulness activities, healthier eating, decompression from daily stress, and connecting with others within and outside work, has been suggested as a strategy to counteract burnout,” the study authors wrote. Medical societies can contribute by working for an improved patient care environment. To read the full report, please visit https://tinyurl.com/MSSCburnout.