How Common is Burnout Among Physicians? It Depends on How it’s Defined

September 11, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under For Career Seekers, For Employers, Health and Wellness

Last modified September 14, 2020

This article by STAT News discusses a recent research study published by JAMA Surgery regarding burnout among physicians. There’s a vast body of research showing that physicians and other health care professionals experience high rates of burnout, their roles leaving them exhausted, overworked, or detached. But a new study makes the case that it’s difficult to capture how common burnout actually is because how it’s defined varies so widely.

In the research, nearly 7,000 general surgery residents in the U.S. were surveyed about whether they experienced symptoms of burnout and if so, how often. When the researchers translated the definition of burnout differently, they found significant differences in how prevalent burnout was among participants.

In the new study, the researchers focused only on emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, which they said are the strongest and most consistent indicators of burnout. The survey first asked the residents if they experienced either one of the symptoms and if so, whether they experienced those symptoms on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. Next, they had to report if they experienced both symptoms and if so, how frequent they were.

If burnout was defined as having either of the symptoms a few times a year, 91% of residents met the definition for burnout. If it was defined as being a daily symptom, the burnout rates reduced to 11%. By comparison, 90% of residents reported experiencing both symptoms at least once a year, while 3% reported having them on a daily basis.

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