Doctor Burnout: How Common Is It?


Nearly half of doctors have at least one sign of burnout, and they are also more likely to be burned out from their work than people in other professions, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that 45.8 percent of doctors have experienced at least one symptom of burnout. Their findings are based on a survey of 7,288 doctors, and 3,442 non-doctor working adults in the U.S., and are published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Specifically, 37.9 percent of doctors report being extremely emotionally exhausted and 29.4 percent report having "high depersonalization." Depersonalization occurs when you feel like your real life is a dream, and you're just watching yourself as you go through your daily actions, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Plus, burnout signs were experienced by 37.9 percent of doctors in the study, compared with 27.8 percent of other working adults in the U.S., the researchers found. More doctors considered their work-life balance to be unsatisfactory than other working adults -- 37.9 percent, compared with 27.8 percent.

Generally, researchers found that people possessing an M.D. or D.O. -- the two medical degrees -- were more likely to experience burnout than people with other college degrees.

Researchers also found that burnout is more common in some specialties than others. For example, doctors working in dermatology, pathology, preventive medicine and pediatrics had lower burnout rates than those working in the "front line of care access" -- neurology, family medicine, emergency medicine and general internal medicine.

This is hardly the first study to examine rates of burnout among physicians. A recent study of 2,000 doctors by Physician Wellness Services and Cejka Search showed that nearly 87 percent of doctors experience stress and burnout on a daily basis, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reported.

The doctors reported in that survey that their symptoms of burnout manifested in having an unsatisfactory work-life balance, problems at home, lowered job satisfaction and productivity, moodiness, and health-related problems like lack of sleep and depression, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

All these findings paint a bleak picture on physician burnout -- so what's a doctor to do? Well, mindfulness meditation could help.

University of Rochester Medical Center researchers found in 2009 that mindfulness meditation decreased burnout symptoms and improved feelings of well-being in doctors who underwent weekly sessions of the practice.

"It provided a framework and vocabulary to remain in the moment and diminish the proximate and remote experiences that might interfere with the therapeutic relationship, while stimulating awareness of the experiences that reinforced it," Dr. John K. Chamberlain, M.D., who was one of the doctors who participated in the mindfulness meditation study, said in a statement.

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