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Identify & Prevent Physician & Clinician Burnout: A Guide

Burnout was first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freuenberger, a psychologist, and since its first usage, burnout has continued to hold relevance in multiple industries, especially healthcare. In modern terms, clinician burnout refers to prolonged stress that causes clinicians to consistently feel mentally, emotionally, and/or physically exhausted. As you might expect, clinicians who are burned out will be more likely to quit, and if they stay, they’re more likely to receive lower patient satisfaction scoresmake medical errors, and not show up to work.

How Common Is Physician Burnout? Physician Burnout Statistics

Physician burnout is a common issue facing healthcare organizations that can affect health outcomes and leave hospitals short-staffed. Based on a recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, close to 63% of physicians reported signs of burnout, such as depersonalization and emotional exhaustion, at least once per week in 2021.

Alongside many physicians feeling burnt out, they’re are varying rates of physician burnout by specialty. Based on an American Medical Association survey, the highest rates of clinician burnout by specialty in 2022 were:

  • Emergency medicine: 62%
  • Hospital medicine: 59%
  • Family medicine: 58%
  • Pediatrics: 55%
  • Obstetrics and gynecology: 54%
  • Internal medicine: 52%

While these numbers were likely affected by COVID-19, the level of burnout described in these statistics should inspire healthcare organizations to take action to reduce and prevent burnout.

The 3 Main Signs of Physician and Clinician Burnout

Due to the relatively high rates of clinician and physician burnout, healthcare organizations will likely want to watch out for signs of burnout in their team. Doing so can help organizations intervene before burnout begins to significantly impact a clinician’s quality of work or cause them to quit. The three primary signs of clinician burnout include:

  1. Physical and emotional exhaustion
  2. Depersonalization, which is often signaled by cynicism, frequent venting about patients or the job, and sarcasm
  3. Reduced efficacy as a clinician
How to Prevent Physician Burnout

While spotting physician burnout is important, the best defense against burnout is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Healthcare is a naturally stressful job, but it doesn’t mean you can’t take action to reduce stress and burnout among your clinicians. Learn more about the three top strategies to prevent physician burnout below:

1. Assess What Organizational Factors Are Leading to Physician Burnout

If your healthcare organization consistently faces clinician burnout, the focus can often be placed on individual physicians. However, it’s better to assess if organizational factors could be contributing to physician burnout. While you can’t control a physician’s mental health or attitude, you can control how much work you assign and the opportunities you provide for a greater work-life balance. For example, if your clinicians consistently work long hours, they’ll be more likely to be stressed and burnt out.

Besides ensuring you have enough staff to not overburden specific clinicians, you’ll want to consider if you offer enough opportunities for community building and professional development. A lack of mental or physical health initiatives can also contribute to increased rates of burnout. Additionally, you might want to evaluate whether poor leadership from supervisors and other leaders is negatively affecting employees. Once you’ve assessed how your organization might be contributing to clinician burnout, you can take steps to address the issues you’ve identified.

2. Ensure You’re Not Overburdening Staff

While it can be tempting to save money by hiring fewer staff members, the long-term effects of these cost-cutting measures can result in higher employee turnover and worse care. If your assessment of your organization shows clinicians being overworked, you’ll need to address it to reduce the risk of burnout.

Since it can be difficult to quickly fill permanent positions, you might want to consider hiring locum tenens or moonlighting physicians. These temporary staff members can pick up shifts and ensure your permanent physicians aren’t overworked. By increasing your staff, you can manage the workload of your clinicians more easily and give them more scheduling flexibility.

3. Initiate Wellness and Community-Building Programs

The healthcare industry comes with unique stressors that can impact a physician’s mental and physical well-being. Whether it’s caring for dying patients or being so overburdened that you don’t have time to exercise, working in healthcare can take a toll on the body and mind.

As you try to combat these stressors, programs that highlight mental health and mindfulness practices can give physicians the tools they need to reduce stress. In addition to mindfulness and mental health initiatives, programs designed to improve physical wellness can assist with managing stress. Burnout can also be addressed with programs designed to help physicians connect with other staff members and build a sense of community.

Reduce Physician Burnout with a Medical Staffing Partner

If you’re dealing with physician burnout at your healthcare organization, OnCall Solutions can help. Since burnout often occurs due to over-scheduling and a lack of work-life balance, healthcare organizations can often benefit from locum tenens and moonlighting physicians.

At OnCall Solutions, we offer facility staffing services that make it easy for our clients to find and hire qualified physicians who can fill scheduling needs–whether they’re full-time, part-time, locum tenens, or moonlighting. We also help organizations avoid overburdening their HR and Operations teams by assisting with onboarding, recruiting, scheduling, and credentialing. Learn more about our medical staffing solutions today.

Learn more about our medical staffing solutions today. If you have any questions or want assistance hiring new physicians, please contact us.

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