As work hours rise, so does physician burnout

Sara Berg, MS , Senior News Writer

Have you found that you are working too many hours? While long work hours seem like a normal occurrence for physicians, 34 percent of doctors in an online survey said that working too many hours contributes to burnout. As the number of hours worked each week rises, so does the percentage of those who experience at least one symptom of physician burnout. 

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.

Spending too many hours at work is a leading cause of physician burnout. In fact, 57 percent of physicians working 71 or more hours in a week and 50 percent working 61-70 hours in a week experience burnout. Almost half of doctors experiencing burnout also identified that they work 51–60 hours, while only 36 percent said they work 31-40 hours each week.  

Working too many hours raises a doctor’s chances of experiencing physician burnout. The odds rise by 3 percent for each additional hour a physician works each week.  

More than 15,000 physicians from 29 specialties responded to the survey—conducted by the Medscape news website and called the “National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019.”  

The survey, which found an overall burnout rate of 44 percent, asked physicians about the prevalence of burnout symptoms and the impact these factors had on their lives. 

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Become a member and help the AMA tackle the key causes of burnout to provide relief for physicians.

The specialties in which physicians are more likely to work 51 or more hours a week are: 

  • General surgery: 77 percent. 
  • Urology: 76 percent. 
  • Cardiology: 72 percent. 
  • Pulmonary medicine: 68 percent. 
  • Nephrology: 68 percent. 

The medical specialties who are more likely to work shorter workweeks include:  

  • Pediatrics: 28 percent.  
  • Public health and preventive medicine: 25 percent.  
  • Allergy and immunology: 25 percent. 
  • Dermatology: 24 percent.  
  • Emergency medicine: 13 percent. 

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 a broad range of topics including preventing physician burnout 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.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the percent of physicians working certain hours report experiencing burnout.