CHICAGO — The burden and bureaucracy of modern medicine inflict a toll on U.S. physicians and appear to be major factors influencing physicians’ intentions to reduce clinical work hours or leave the profession, according to new research by experts at the American Medical Association (AMA), Mayo Clinic and Stanford University. The research study calls for a comprehensive approach by national policymakers and health care delivery institutions to address the challenge.

Published in today’s new issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the research shows roughly one in five physicians intend to reduce clinical work hours in the next year. Meanwhile, roughly one in 50 physicians intend to leave medicine for a different career in the next two years.

The research sheds light on a troubling correlation between the career plans of U.S. physicians and the growing problem of burnout, technology dissatisfaction and administrative fatigue among physicians. Physicians who were burned out, dissatisfied with work-life integration, and dissatisfied with electronic health records (EHRs) were more likely to intend to reduce clinical work in the next 12 months. Burnout is the largest factor influencing physicians who intend to leave medicine in the next two years.

“An energized, engaged, and resilient physician workforce is essential to achieving national health goals. Yet burnout is more common among physicians than other U.S. workers, and that gap is increasing as mounting obstacles to patients care contribute to emotional fatigue, depersonalization and loss of enthusiasm among physicians,” said AMA President David O. Barbe, M.D., M.H.A. “The AMA is urging Congress, hospitals, and health plans to recognize the coming crisis as an early warning sign of health system dysfunction. America’s physicians are the canary in the coal mine.”

Attrition in the physician workforce results in diminished access to care for patients. If just 30 percent of physicians follow through on their intention to leave medicine in the next two years, the study estimates approximately 4,759 physicians would leave the workforce — a loss roughly equivalent to eliminating the graduating classes of 19 U.S. medical schools in each of the next two years.

“Our findings have profound implications for health care organizations,” notes the study. “Replacing physicians is costly to institutions with one recent analysis suggesting costs of $800,000 or more per physician. In addition, turnover is disruptive to patients, staff, and organizational culture.”

To help physicians succeed in their life's work of caring for patients, the AMA has made the prevention of burnout a core priority. Working with partners across health care, the AMA is leading a necessary change in medicine that embraces physician well-being as a critical factor in the long-term clinical and economic success of our nation’s health care system.

The AMA is striving to help physicians cope with the real challenges of providing quality patient care in today’s environment, arming them with relevant, cutting edge tools, information and resources, and, in so doing, rekindle a joy in medicine. The AMA’s STEPS Forward™ collection of practice improvement strategies helps physicians make transformative changes to their practices. It offers free online modules that help physicians and health leaders learn their risk factors for burnout and adopt medical practice solutions to reignite professional fulfillment and resilience, including Creating the Organizational Foundation for Joy in Medicine, Implementing Team-Based Care, Team Documentation, and EHR In-Basket Restructuring for Improved Efficiency.

Through its ongoing work, the AMA is committed to help physicians and their practices thrive so they can continue to put patients first. By advancing initiatives that enhance efficiency, professional satisfaction, and the delivery of care, the AMA is striving to help physicians navigate and succeed in a continually evolving health care environment.

Media Contact:

Robert J. Mills

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About the American Medical Association

The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care.  The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.