Definitions May Vary, but Burnout Is a Problem All the Same

This month, The Journal of the American Medical Association published two major studies and one searing editorial on physician burnout.

The first study, entitled Prevalence of Burnout Among Physicians, A Systematic Review, is a summary of research to date on the prevalence of physician burnout. In conclusion, the review found, “there was substantial variability in prevalence estimates of burnout among practicing physicians and marked variation in burnout definitions, assessment methods, and study quality.”

The second study, Association of Clinical Specialty with Symptoms of Burnout and Career Choice Regret Among US Resident Physicians, followed doctors-in-training over the course of six years, and kept track of how they felt about their work. In conclusion, the study found that “reported symptoms of burnout occurred in 45.2% of participants and career choice regret in 14.1%.”

The accompanying editorial, Physician Burnout—A Serious Symptom, But of What?, written by Thomas L. Schwenk, MD and Katherine J. Gold, MD, MSW, MS, takes aim at these studies and the problem of burnout as a whole.

“The term burnout has taken on meaning far beyond what is understood about it as an actual diagnosis or even a syndrome. The medical profession has taken a self-reported complaint of unhappiness and dissatisfaction and turned it into a call for action on what is claimed to be a national epidemic that purportedly affects half to two-thirds of practicing physicians,” the editorial reads, in part.

It goes on to say, “There is clearly something important and worrisome happening to physician well-being.”

From where you stand, as a physician, does defining burnout as a diagnosable condition, such as depression, even matter in regards to treating the problem? Or do you believe the focus should fall elsewhere?

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

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  1. 1
    Michele Greenhouse

    We need to focus on treating the problem. I have been practicing 18 years and it just keeps getting harder. But I have always loved what I do, it’s just really hard!

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