Physician Health

Burnout falls, but still hits these 6 physician specialties most

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

AMA News Wire

Burnout falls, but still hits these 6 physician specialties most

Jul 9, 2024

Picture a pediatrician whose days were once filled with the joy of helping children who is now struggling to find meaning in medicine. Imagine an emergency physician, the epitome of calm under pressure, feeling the weight of unrelenting stress. This is doctor burnout, and certain physician specialties have become particularly vulnerable to this pervasive problem, according to an exclusive survey from the AMA.

As the leader in physician well-being, the AMA is reducing physician burnout by removing administrative burdens and providing real-world solutions to help doctors rediscover the Joy in Medicine™.

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More than 12,400 responses from physicians across 31 states were received from 81 health systems and organizations who participated in the AMA Organizational Biopsy® last year. The AMA national physician comparison report—which is exclusive data to the AMA that is not published anywhere else—reflects 2023 trends in six key performance indicators: job satisfaction, job stress, burnout, intent to leave an organization, feeling valued by an organization and total hours spent per week on work-related activities (known as “time spend”).

The purpose of the aggregated data is to provide a national summary of organizational well-being and to serve as a comparison for other health care organizations. The results may be limited by the health systems that chose to participate. 

In 2023, 48.2% of physicians reported experiencing at least one symptom of burnout, down from 53% in 2022.

For the most stressful medical job in 2023, the highest percentages of burnout occurred in six physician specialties. They are:

  • Emergency medicine: 56.5%—down from 62%.
  • Internal medicine: 51.4%—down from 52%.
  • Obstetrics and gynecology: 51.2%—down from 54%.
  • Family medicine: 51%—down from 58%.
  • Pediatrics: 46.9%—down from 55%.
  • Hospital medicine: 44%—down from 59%.

Meanwhile, just 48.7% of pediatrician respondents reported feeling valued by their organization, down from 52% in 2022. While pediatricians saw a drop in feeling valued, ob-gyns saw a rise in this metric moving from 40% to 51.6%. Family doctors and internists both fell below 50% on that metric.

At Texas Children’s Pediatrics, the percentage of pediatricians who reported burnout was well below the national average. Texas Children’s Pediatrics is a member of the AMA Health System Program, which provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine.

Here is how Texas Children’s Pediatrics has addressed physician burnout and worked to improve job satisfaction among pediatricians.

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Two years ago, Texas Children’s Pediatrics organized an engagement and well-being committee. This physician-led committee aims to address concerns that pediatricians have.

“We’ve assessed burnout across the system twice now. We just completed our second assessment this past March and we saw improvement,” said Sapna Singh, MD, a pediatrician and director of physician engagement and wellness at Texas Children's Pediatrics. “Our distress scores dropped by 36% from 2023 to 2024, and our thriving scores improved by almost 14%.”

“Some of it may be just COVID being a little further away in our rearview mirror, but I’d like to say that we can take some credit,” she said, noting “the committee’s work has helped allow us to have a discussion about what physicians need at every level of the organization and that’s critical to being able to tackle burnout.

“You can’t just form a committee and then go out and give people cupcakes and meditation classes. You need to go in and have the Epic team work on how we can improve EHR inefficiencies our operations team is working on,” Dr. Singh said. The committee also looks at “how does our staff support the work of the clinical team better? ... How can leadership come in and support us when we need help with supplies, equipment, scheduling, online resources that we might need assistance with?”

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Texas Children’s Pediatrics has started investing in a pilot for virtual scribes to address the administrative burden faced by pediatricians, “which is a huge bane of our existence,” said Dr. Singh.

Another way Texas Children’s Pediatrics is reducing documentation burden is with augmented intelligence (AI), often called artificial intelligence.

“We’re working on AI responses for inbox messages to help with the 300,000 messages that we receive in our portal,” Dr. Singh said, noting these will now be assisted with the AI tool and will “still be viewed and answered by a physician, but we will have the assistance of AI in being able to get back to patients more quickly.”

Additionally, Texas Children’s Pediatrics has rolled out an app to help patients after hours and on weekends. The app “helps them go through a symptom checker, helps them assess when they need to come in, when do they need to make an appointment,” Dr. Singh said. “A lot of that is taking some of those questions and messages off our plate so that we can spend more time doing what we love, which is the face-to-face interactions in the clinic.”

“The work that the committee has put in has helped us have conversations across the organization so that we’re now making decisions based on what’s going to provide quality patient care and not increase stress and workload on the physicians and clinical team,” she said. 

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While their well-being work was not done for recognition, for the first time this year Texas Children’s Pediatrics applied for the AMA Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program.

“We followed the Joy in Medicine road map and it was really pleasantly surprising. We had actually done a lot of the work that the road map was asking for, even prior to looking at that and using that as a guiding format for what we wanted to accomplish,” Dr. Singh said. “That recognition would be wonderful because it helps people see we’re invested, and we really do want to help physicians do better.”

“The program that the AMA has put together is really fantastic, especially if you’re an organization that’s just getting started,” she said. “That road map is a really good way to work through the system level things that are really causing burnout.”

“The most important thing is that we’ve got to really listen to our clinical care teams … to provide quality patient care, which should be everybody’s priority,” Dr. Singh said. “The people who take care of those patients day in and day out really need to have a voice.”

“And anybody who doesn’t take that seriously is probably going to have more issues with burnout and attrition within their system,” she said. “What our organization has done really well is we’ve opened up the conversation, we’ve got avenues for feedback and discussion and on top of that, we have action.

“People are taking action on ideas that we’ve asked for. We’re not at the end by any means yet and there are a lot of other factors that contribute to this that aren’t in our control,” Dr. Singh added. “But at the end of the day, pediatricians have a lot to offer.”

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