Physician Burnout

AMA Alliance Guide to Physician Burnout and How to Effect Change


What is Physician Burnout?
Physician burnout is at crisis levels in the medical community.  Marked by feelings of cynicism, loss of interest in work, and a lowered sense of personal accomplishment among other indicators, recent studies have shown that approximately 46-50% of all physicians classify themselves in burnout.  While many factors contribute to an atmosphere of stress, most clinicians point to increased regulations and technology in combination with decreased opportunities for direct patient care as the primary causes for their overall sense of dissatisfaction.  However, not all the news is grim:  according to a 2015 Medscape report, most physicians would choose medicine again as their career, especially those in front line practices such as primary care, although perhaps not their current specialty.
 

What are the dangers of burnout?
Physicians in burnout may become depressed and turn to self-medication or other extremes for relief.  If your physician is in crisis, seek confidential assistance from your family’s personal doctor, employer or health system’s resources, or your state’s physician health or assistance programs before it is too late.

How can I tell if my favorite physician is experiencing burnout?
The AMA Alliance, in conjunction with trusted experts in the field, has developed a quiz specifically targeted to physician families. To take the online quiz, click here or download as a pdf. To learn more about AMA Alliance and get involved, please consider joining the organization.

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What did you learn from taking the quiz?

Overall Score:  
Like golf, the lower the points and/or percentage the better. In this case, lower scores indicate that the physician in your family is likely not suffering from a dangerous level of burnout. However, the signs of physician burnout are both gradual and cumulative and should be screened periodically. Physician families play an important role in the detection and prevention of burnout as well as supporting activities that promote physician resilience and well-being.

Green Light (0-12 points or 0-25%) –
The physician is likely not suffering from burnout and is probably happy with his or her professional and personal life. Additional self-care and awareness are always valuable; information on how physician families can engage in activities to promote physician resilience can be found in the AMA Alliance Guide to Physician Burnout and How to Effect Change.1 

Yellow Light (13-24 points or 27-50%) –
The physician should seek out information on methods of self-care and engage in more activities to increase personal well-being, such as getting more sleep and exercise and engaging in non-medical activities which bring him or her pleasure, especially family activities. The AMA’s Steps Forward Guide to Improving Physician Resiliency2 is a valuable tool, as is the AMA Alliance Guide to Physician Burnout and How to Effect Change.1

Red Light (25-36 points or 52-75%) – The physician should seek assistance from a personal physician or trusted mental health professional, from a local or state medical society, health system, or the state’s Physician Health Program. Important information is also included in AMA’s STEPS Forward Preventing Physician Burnout Module3 and the AMA Alliance Guide to Physician Burnout and How to Effect Change.1

Flashing Red Light (37-48 points or 77-100%) – The physician may be in need of immediate professional intervention from a personal physician or trusted mental health professional, from a local or state medical society, health system, or the state’s Physician Health Program. Important information is also included in AMA’s STEPS Forward Preventing Physician Burnout Module3 and the AMA Alliance Guide to Physician Burnout and How to Effect Change.1

This quiz is not intended to be diagnostic; a trained health care professional should be consulted if burnout is suspected.

Resources:
1. AMA Alliance Guide to Physician Burnout and How to Effect Change
2. AMA’s Steps Forward Guide to Improving Physician Resiliency
3. AMA’s STEPS Forward Preventing Physician Burnout Module

What can I, my family, and my network do to support a physician in burnout?
Most current approaches focus on steps the physician can or should take to overcome burnout.  However, the AMA Alliance understands that it needs to be a team effort involving the family and other supporters.  According to a list published by Emily Gibson, MD, there are many practical ways families can help:

  • Encourage the physician to sleep as much as reasonable when not on call. Adult naps are highly underrated.
  • Remind the physician to eat and remain hydrated while at work. Some days may be tougher than others, but physical well-being is closely tied to emotional well-being.
  • Help the physician get plenty of exercise. Even a stroll through the neighborhood helps. 
  • Make sure time off is truly time off. Discourage the physician from answering calls or emails related to work if it is not required. Keep vacation time sacred.
  • Embrace unplanned activities. Spontaneity is a welcome break from a highly scheduled and planned career.
  • Introduce the physician to interests and hobbies completely unrelated to medicine. 
  • Nurture the physician as much as you can at all times. At the end of a week where medicine demands so much from the physician, it is important to remind them there are people who love and support them.

How can physician families help with the work environment?

  • Many health and hospital systems have physician wellness programs. Reach out to see if one exists and if not, inquire if there’s a way to start one.
  • Listen to your physician’s concerns about medical records and try to educate yourself about the challenges.  For some, this is a whole new world.
  • Engage with your local Alliance and medical society to stay aware of any legislation that may add burdens to the delivery of care. Take action when necessary. The AMA Alliance can give you tips on how to effectively advocate on behalf of the medical community.

While many of the stressors physicians encounter on a daily basis will never go away, we, as the family of medicine, can do our part to support our favorite doctors so they can be healthy and happy for their patients.

As part of the Steps Forward program, the AMA has developed resources for physicians to enhance their resiliency and prevent burnout. These two modules have been recommended by Dr. Michael Tutty at the AMA as tools for our members and their favorite physician. As an added bonus, the physician may be able to acquire CME by completing the online modules, free on the AMA’s website.

AMA’s Steps Forward Guide to Improving Physician Resiliency (download pdf)
AMA’s STEPS Forward Preventing Physician Burnout Module (download pdf)


References:
Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance Among US Physicians Relative to the General US Population Shanafelt, Tait, et al.
Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report 2015, pub January 26, 2015
Advice Physicians Should Follow.  But Don’t.  Emily Gibson, MD, as published on KevinMD.com, October 28, 2015