To prevent burnout among doctors in training, start at the top

Marc Zarefsky , Contributing News Writer

AMA News Wire

To prevent burnout among doctors in training, start at the top

Dec 9, 2023

About half of physicians reported experiencing burnout last year, and they are not alone. Between 50% and 60% of medical students and resident physicians live with high degrees of burnout, according to Lotte Dyrbye, MD, chief well-being officer at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Medical students and residents may be at a different point in their careers than practicing physicians, but many of the causes of burnout are the same.

Fighting physician burnout

Reducing burnout is essential to high-quality patient care and a sustainable health system. The AMA measures and responds to physician burnout, helping drive solutions and interventions.

"Like with physicians in practice, the drivers of burnout in medical students and residents really come from the system," said Dr. Dyrbye, an AMA member. "It relates to their workload, their work intensity, or work compression in many cases."

Dr. Dyrbye detailed how medical schools and residency programs can address burnout among medical students and residents in a recent episode of “AMA Update.”

Reducing physician burnout is a critical component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.

Far too many American physicians experience burnout. That's why the AMA develops resources that prioritize well-being and highlight workflow changes so physicians can focus on what matters—patient care.

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When dealing with burnout, it's more likely for medical students and residents to lose sense of meaning in their work, Dr. Dyrbye said, as they try to balance their education with taking care of patients.

Burnout can also be related to organizational culture. For students and residents, their stress levels can often be affected by faculty members, particularly if they feel they are not being treated fairly or given an appropriate level of autonomy.

Social isolation is also a burnout driver among medical students.

"Sometimes they get really scattered throughout a state—if not multiple states—and they lose their social support, and that can really add another huge challenge," Dr. Dyrbye said. "And, as in physicians, it has a lot of ramifications to them personally and professionally."

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Addressing medical student and resident burnout has to start with a desire among organizational leaders to bring about change, Dr. Dyrbye said.

"There needs to be that will from the top leadership to try to impact the system that's driving a lot of stress for the trainees," she said. "That will is manifested in resource allocation. It's manifested in having an individual who's in charge [of] driving the bus to try to improve the work and the learning environment for the trainees. And it's manifested by being willing to be a learning organization.

"If that will isn't there, if you don't have the first step, the rest of it is just like building scaffolding on top of sand. It's not really going to hold."

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Medical schools and residency programs should better empower, equip and enable faculty to prioritize educating medical students residents who are in a clinical learning environment, Dr. Dyrbye said. That should include faculty training to learn the skill set to become better educators. 

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Medical student sitting on a stack of textbooks

"They have to know how to create a positive learning environment that's inclusive of our increasingly diverse medical students," she said. "They have to understand the principles of giving good feedback, really helping the learner along."

Dr. Dyrbye will further explore this topic in her keynote speech at the American Conference on Physician Health, Oct. 11–13. This premier conference on physician health is co-sponsored by Stanford Medicine, the AMA and Mayo Clinic.

AMA Update” is your source for physician-focused news. Hear from physicians and other experts on trending public health concerns, practice issues and more—because who’s doing the talking matters. Catch every episode by subscribing to the AMA’s YouTube channel or listen to all AMA podcasts at