Physician suffering from burnout_ Colleagues handing him materials.

The Biggest Contributors to Physician Burnout

It is well established that burnout is a serious issue plaguing the healthcare industry. Physicians and nurses silently suffer as the issue, especially the contributors to burnout, go unaddressed. The serious and sometimes dangerous symptoms of burnout can include feelings of lack of purpose, depression and suicidal thoughts, alcohol and substance abuse, and relationship issues.

Healthcare leaders need to be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms of burnout in their employees, as they can often go unnoticed. Knowing what to look for is important, but if healthcare leaders want to eliminate burnout from the source, it is crucial that they understand the factors that contribute the most to it.

 Graph Showing the Biggest Contributors to Physician Burnout
Infographic from ‘Death by 1000 Cuts’: Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021

In this article, we are going to highlight a few of the most common contributors to burnout, as well as things that can be done to mitigate the issue. Some of these problem areas may seem like a daunting task to address, but it is possible to make a positive impact on the work-lives of America’s healthcare workers. Knowing the most common contributors is the crucial first step.

Bureaucratic/Administrative Tasks

All too often, physicians are required not only to see more and more patients but to also take on more administrative tasks. A physician’s most important skills are diagnosing, treating, and managing patients. Healthcare leaders may consider additional help in the form of scribes and patient assistants to ease the burden of bureaucratic tasks. This will allow them to focus their energy on the patients, making for a better quality of care and restoring meaning in the work.

Physician burnout banner graphic that reads, "Feeling burned out? Sign up for tools and resources to stop burnout."

Computerization

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have changed the way the healthcare industry operates. They allow for a more organized database and remote access of records. In theory, this should be a tool that makes the lives of physicians and nurses easier. However, studies have shown that EHRs contribute to physician burnout due to the burdensome user interface. It is unfair to burden physicians with poor user interfaces and clunky operating systems. It adds additional frustration and takes a significant amount of time – essentially turning them into data entry clerks. Dedicated scribes can reduce physicians’ requirement to interact with EHRs and enter data. Doing this will lift some of the burden off of the shoulders of physicians allowing them to spend their time and energy on the people that matter most: patients.

Leadership

The disparity between the number of physicians and nurses experiencing burnout symptoms and those that actually seek support is staggering. A recent infographic shows that of the 40-60% of healthcare professionals experiencing burnout, only 9-13% sought help. There are two important things that healthcare leaders need to do to combat this issue and prevent burnout in their employees. The first is learning the signs and symptoms of burnout and using their eyes and ears to detect it, even when it is not being reported to them. The second is starting a dialog with physicians and nurses about burnout and ensuring them that reporting burnout will be met with positive and supportive actions, rather than judgment and punishment.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just another stressor for physicians and nurses. It comes loaded with a plethora of stressors attached to it. Concerns of being overworked, job security, lawsuit liability, and of course, personal safety are all issues burdening the minds of America’s healthcare workers. It is crucial that healthcare leadership take the time to reassure their employees that these concerns are heard and that there are steps being taken to address concerns. It is equally as crucial that leaders take the time to let physicians and nurses know that they are appreciated greatly and that the work they are doing has a positive effect.

Conclusion

There are many contributing factors to burnout in physicians and nurses. It is important that those in leadership positions understand the causes of burnout. It is impossible to fix everything all at once, but by knowing the causes, steps can begin to be taken to combat burnout and its effects that can have a detrimental effect on physicians, nurses, and their families.

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