Health Care Executive Search Library

Physician Stress and Burnout Study Reveals Nearly 87 Percent of Physicians are Moderately to Severely Stressed

The majority of U.S. physicians are moderately to severely stressed or burned out on an average day, according to a survey conducted by Physician Wellness Services (PWS) and Cejka Search released today. Nearly 63 percent of respondents say their stress has increased moderately to dramatically in the past three years, yet only 15 percent say their organizations do anything to help them deal more effectively with their stress or burnout.

The survey of physicians across the U.S. was conducted in September 2011 to measure the prevalence, causation and effects of stress and burnout and its impact on physicians’ work and personal lives. Additionally the survey measured actions that hospitals, clinics and healthcare organizations take to support and reduce physicians’ stress and burnout.

The implications of escalating stress and burnout range from increased patient safety issues and lower staff morale at all levels, to increased turnover and recruitment challenges as physicians look for better work environments.

“This data shows that physician stress and burnout is prevalent and increasing,” said Mitchell Best, PWS chief operating officer. “Until now, little research has been done that delves into why physicians feel stress, the impact it has on their lives and the impact physician stress has on patients. Our goal for this survey was to better understand the situation in order to help hospitals and clinics develop solutions to address and deal with physician stress and burnout in an effective, long-term manner.”

“Physician stress and burnout can drive turnover, which is highly disruptive and expensive for a medical practice,” said Lori Schutte, Cejka Search president. “In this time of physician shortage, turnover causes additional stress for the remaining staff, the loss of revenue and the expense and challenge of recruiting new physicians. The survey underscores the need for organizations to recognize physicians’ stress and take action to improve retention.”

Top Stress and Burnout Causes and Effects

Physicians stated that their top four external stress factors are: the economy, healthcare reform, Medicare and Medicaid policies, and unemployed and uninsured patients. The top four work-related stress factors are: administrative demands of the job, long work hours, on-call schedules and concerns about medical malpractice lawsuits.

The result of this cumulative stress is declining job satisfaction, motivating physicians to change jobs or leave the practice of medicine altogether. Fourteen percent of respondents indicated they had left their practice as a result of stress.

The consequences of stress on respondents’ personal lives include fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability and moodiness, all of which result in physical and mental health issues, apathy and cynicism and increased risk of medical errors, which impacts patient safety and could lead to medical malpractice lawsuits.

“Physicians are human beings with physical and emotional limitations,” said a survey respondent. “In order to perform better, we need better physical and emotional health and (a better) work environment.”

How Health Care Organizations Can Help

“This study shows that healthcare organizations are not providing support for their physicians, and the physicians don’t know where to go for help,” said Alan Rosenstein, M.D., medical director of PWS. “While administrators can’t control external stress factors such as reimbursement and government policies, there is tremendous opportunity for them to better understand and recognize that physicians are stressed and provide them with services and support so they can have more energy, achieve better work/life balance, and be more resilient in order to effectively manage their stress.”

Nearly one-third of respondents indicated that better work hours/less on-call time and better work/life balance would help to reduce their stress.

“The great news about this study is that it shows several areas that are actionable by healthcare organizations,” said Schutte. “Survey respondents indicated physicians value greater flexibility and control over their working hours to mitigate stress. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said ancillary support would help mitigate stress. This feedback and the growing trend of part-time work schedules for physicians indicate a need for advanced providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants who can provide accessible and effective care as physicians scale back their hours in order to pursue better work/life balance.”

“I hope this survey will be used in a constructive manner so employers will recognize the huge issue of stress in medicine, as we are losing fine physicians largely because administration is not listening well,” a respondent commented. “Retention is becoming a significant issue.”

About the Survey

The survey was conducted in September 2011 and collected responses from more than 2,000 physicians nationwide. Respondents closely reflected a demographic representation of the national physician population.

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With providers in every major city and wide-ranging expertise in every aspect of behavioral health, Physician Wellness Services, a division of Workplace Behavioral Solutions, Inc., is the only company today that gives doctors and healthcare organizations easy access to the help they need, whenever, however and wherever they prefer.  Their comprehensive, end-to-end solution includes: The Physician EAPPhysician Intervention Services, and Training & Consulting Services. For more information

About Cejka Search

Cejka Search is a nationally recognized physician and allied health and healthcare executive search firm providing services exclusively to the healthcare industry for more than 30 years.  Cejka Search recruits top healthcare talent for organizations nationwide through our team of experienced professionals, award-winning recruitment technology and commitment to service excellence.  Cejka Search is a Cross Country Healthcare, Inc. (NASDAQ: CCRN) company, a leading provider of healthcare staffing services in the United States.