Eight Factors That Are Keeping Today’s Doctors Stressed, Depressed, and Disengaged


healing-physician-burnout-bookPhysicians are exhausted, dissatisfied, discouraged, helpless, hopeless. Statistics show one out of every two physicians is, has been, or soon will be suffering from burnout. And in some specialties, this estimate is too low. Yet Quint Studer says there is hope.

“As a nation and as individual health systems, we can work with physicians to solve the burnout crisis,” says Studer, who wrote Healing Physician Burnout: Diagnosing, Preventing, and Treating (Fire Starter Publishing, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-622-18020-2, $28.00www.firestarterpublishing.com) in collaboration with George Ford, MD. “In fact, it’s even better than can—we will solve it. I believe the recent changes in healthcare have created the sense of urgency we need to finally put the needed energy behind the issue.”

Studer says the key is getting physicians aligned and engaged—but first we must understand what’s burning them out. Just a few of the burnout factors covered in the book:

Coping with “big picture changes” is incredibly stressful. Many physicians have moved from solo practices or small groupings into ever-larger practices and systems. Reimbursement is increasingly tied to clinical quality and patient experience outcomes. And a looming physician shortage is hitting at the same time that our aging population needs more and more care.

Physicians are overworked and sleep deprived. The Physicians Foundation’s 2014 Survey of American Physicians found that more than 80 percent of doctors say they are “overextended or at full capacity.”

Physicians face downward pressure in compensation, coupled with heavy debt. Not only are physicians being asked to relinquish control over their own lives and to change the way they’re used to working, they’re now hearing, “Oh, yes, now we want you to do this for less money, or at least the same money.” This represents a massive shift in the social contract physicians have always operated under.

Many physicians need additional skills beyond great clinical expertise. These include the ability to navigate electronic medical records, to consult a patient’s economic “big picture” when ordering tests, to work in teams with other professionals who aren’t doctors, to name just a few. And all of these new requirements are hitting at the same time.

“What’s happening in healthcare is that we’ve moved from an episodic change culture to a continuous change culture,” says Studer. “As John Kotter states, there is nothing more difficult for an industry, and it can implode a culture.”

Patient needs and expectations are changing. As patients live longer, they develop more and more health challenges. They don’t always comply with their complex treatment plans, yet many expect miracles. Factor in the rise of the Internet, meaning patients have endless information at their fingertips, and you have an incredibly tough and stressful doctor/patient dynamic.

Consistently high quality operations are now a must. If physicians don’t feel their patients are well taken care of, they’re going to be anxious and stressed. Providing consistent and exceptional quality care—meaning quality care that occurs with every patient, every department, every time—remains elusive for many.

Physicians want to receive consistent performance feedback. According to an article written by S. Schoenbaum, et al, in The Commonwealth Fund, between 30 and 50 percent of physicians report they do not receive adequate or meaningful feedback on performance.

Physicians need clearly defined and very specific goals and relevant, objective metrics built into their feedback. Physicians like facts and figures, and it’s tough to engage them in collaborative dialogue if one can’t cite “the numbers.”

Many feel they spend too little time with patients…and too much time doing everything else. A satisfied physician is a physician who feels confident their patients are getting the best possible care. A physician who feels rushed may not have that confidence.

For more on the causes of physician burnout and how it’s affecting patient care, check out Studer’s comments on this September 10 Morning Joe segment.

And take heart: health systems and physicians, working together, can overcome or at least mitigate many of these factors.

“When physicians really buy into and get excited about an organization’s mission, they will put the full force of their passion, intelligence, and caring behind that mission,” Studer writes. “When that happens, miracles can occur.”