Physician Health

Physician burnout: 10 work factors that hinder your well-being

Tanya Albert Henry , Contributing News Writer

Are you working too many hours, or taking work home with you? 

Answering yes to these questions—or several others related to your work environment or demographic profile—increases the odds that you are a burned out physician, or have a greater chance of bearing that title.  

Physician burnout demands urgent action

The AMA is leading the national effort to solve the growing physician burnout crisis. We're working to eliminate the dysfunction in health care by removing the obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care.

Study after study has documented the prevalence of physician burnout as the nation’s health system strives to deliver higher quality care at lower costs. Burnout is characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and high depersonalization and a low sense of personal accomplishment from work. 

Committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied, and is addressing, issues causing and fueling physician burnout—including time constraints, technology and regulations—to better understand the challenges physicians face. 

The AMA’s STEPS Forward™ is an open-access platform featuring more than 50 modules that offer actionable, expert-driven strategies and insights supported by practical resources and tools. Based on best practices from the field, STEPS Forward modules empower practices to identify areas or opportunities for improvement, set meaningful and achievable goals, and implement transformative changes designed to increase operational efficiencies, elevate clinical team engagement, and improve patient care.  

Learn more about the AMA’s practice transformation efforts

Authors of a discussion paper published on the National Academy of Medicine website, Burnout Among Health Care Professionals: A Call to Explore and Address This Underrecognized Threat to Safe, High-Quality Care, looked at numerous studies on burnout and identified 16 factors driving the phenomenon among physicians.  

The authors—including the AMA’s vice president of Professional Satisfaction Christine A. Sinsky, MD, who is a general internist—broke the items into two categories: work-related factors and demographic profiles. Here we look at the work-related factors outlined. 

Working too many hours increases the chances that you burn out, with the odds rising by 3 percent for each additional hour you work a week.  

Taking night or weekend call increases your odds of burnout by 3 to 9 percent for each additional night or weekend you spend on call. 

Performing work-related tasks at home increases your odds of burning out by 2 percent for each additional hour you work at home per week.   

Having a work-home conflict increases burnout odds by 200 to 250 percent. 

Practicing in certain specialties, such as emergency medicine, general internal medicine and neurology, increases your odds of becoming burned out by as much as 300 percent when compared with burnout in other specialties. 

Working in a private practice increases your odds of burnout by about 20 percent no matter what your specialty or work hours. 

Receiving incentive pay increases your burnout odds by 130 percent when compared to physicians who are paid under other salary models. 

Being a midcareer physician increases your burnout odds, with burnout 25 percent more likely among these physicians than those early or late in their career. 

Having a career that doesn’t fit what you find most personally meaningful increases the odds of your becoming burned out, with studies finding that burnout is 275 percent more likely among physicians who spend less than 20 percent of their work effort on this. 

Using computerized physician order entry or enduring other clerical burdens drives burnout, with burnout 29 percent more likely among physicians who enter orders into a computer. 

To move forward, the NAM paper says, further research is needed to: 

  • Identify organizational and health care system factors that increase risk of distress for health care professionals. 
  • Gain further understanding of the implications of health care professional distress and well-being for health care outcomes. 
  • Improve the work-lives and well-being of health care professionals.