Physician Health

How burnout in physicians compares to other professional degrees

Does whether you have a medical, doctor of philosophy (PhD) or juris doctor (JD) degree, play a role in your risk for professional burnout? It does.  

Medicine is a demanding profession that requires a long, grueling training process. However, professional- or doctoral-level degrees in a field outside of medicine, such as a JD or PhD, do too. Even though physicians and individuals with a JD or PhD complete a similar lengthy training process, doctors remain at a higher risk for developing burnout.  

Since 2011, researchers from the AMA, Mayo Clinic and Stanford University School of Medicine have conducted a series of studies evaluating the prevalence of burnout among physicians and U.S. workers. These studies have consistently found that physicians are at a higher risk for burnout than workers in other fields, according to a research letter published in Mayo Clinical Proceedings.  

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“Burnout among physicians is higher than burnout among other professionals who have also invested many additional years in their training,” said AMA Vice President of Professional Satisfaction Christine Sinsky, MD, a general internist and a co-author of the letter.  

“In fact, having higher levels of training protects against burnout in professions outside of medicine, whereas it does not in medicine,” she added.  

The research letter cites data from the study, “Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction with Work-Life Integration in Physicians and the General US Working Population between 2011-2017,” also published in Mayo Clinical Proceedings. In the study, among the more than 5,000 employed U.S. workers, 285 (5 percent) had a professional- or doctoral-level degree in a field outside of medicine.  

Authors of the letter found that physicians worked more hours per week, were less satisfied with work-life integration (WLI) and were more likely to experience symptoms of professional burnout. The higher the rates of burnout and decreased satisfaction with WLI in physicians persisted even after adjusting for age, sex, relationship status and hours worked per week.   

“This comparison also controlled for the number of hours worked, so we can’t conclude that physicians are more burned out than other similarly trained professionals because they work more, but there is something about the nature of the work that is contributing,” said Dr. Sinsky. “It is my observation that it is the administrative burdens, rather than the management of complex or sick patients that is driving that burnout.” 

“There is a shared responsibility among many organizations that impact physicians’ work lives to consider how decisions within their realm impact the do-ability of the work and the well-being of the physician workforce,” she added. 

Committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied, and is currently addressing issues causing and fueling physician burnout—including time constraints, technology and regulations—to better understand and reduce the challenges physicians face. By focusing on factors causing burnout at the system-level, the AMA assesses an organization’s well-being and offers guidance and targeted solutions to support physician well-being and satisfaction.  

The AMA Ed Hub™—your center for personalized learning from sources you trust—offers CME on professional well-being using the STEPS Forward™ open-access platform that offers innovative strategies that allow physicians and their staff to thrive in the new health care environment. These toolkits can help you prevent physician burnout, create the organizational foundation for joy in medicine, create a strong team culture and improve practice efficiency. Learn more about the AMA’s Practice Transformation efforts.