Physician burnout rate drops to lowest point since 2020, survey shows

The health care industry saw a period of high burnout amid the pandemic, and the American Medical Association says its survey results mark a milestone shift.
Posted at 5:47 PM, Jul 09, 2024

For the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, physician burnout has dropped below 50%, an annual survey from the American Medical Association shows.

Burnout is a long-term stress reaction that can be marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and/or feelings of decreased personal achievement, according to the AMA. And during the last four years, the pandemic — fraught with staffing shortages, long hours and declining mental health for health care employees — exacerbated the already concerning issue.

But the new AMA survey, collecting 12,400 physician responses across 31 states, shows a positive shift in the battle, as burnout rates have continuously decreased since their record-high of 62.8% in 2021. In 2023, the year analyzed in the AMA's latest survey, 48.2% of responding physicians reported experiencing at least one burnout symptom, down from 53% in 2022.

Nancy Nankivil, the director of organizational well-being at the AMA, said this is a sign of "moving in the right direction." However, efforts to move the rates even lower shouldn't be finished yet, particularly for the six specialties which are hit the hardest by burnout.

Although all of their burnout rates have declined from the year prior, the AMA's survey still found higher than average rates in emergency medicine (56.5%), internal medicine (51.4%), obstetrics and gynecology (51.2%), and family medicine (51%). Pediatrics and hospital medicine also had higher levels, with 46.9% and 44% respectively.

Additionally, fewer pediatricians are feeling valued by their organization, with the new AMA survey seeing just 48.7% compared to last year's 52%. Family doctors and internists also fell below 50%, though OB-GYNs rose from 40% to 51.6% in the metric.

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Overall though, job satisfaction improved from 68% to 72.1%, and fewer physicians are feeling high stress from their jobs, down to 50.7% compared to 55.6% in 2022.

To keep these issues at bay, the AMA said it and other organizations must go after and measure their roots such as administrative burdens, lack of connectedness and trust, workplace chaos and systemic issues.

Texas Children's Pediatrics is one hospital that's tackled these traits to find benefits. A physician from the hospital told the AMA organizing a well-being committee that consistently improves inefficiencies, incorporating AI to respond to documentation burdens and maintaining open communication within clinical teams, has helped.

In the long run, reducing burnout can improve workflow, patient care and financial well-being. The AMA reports every physician who leaves due to burnout costs an organization $500,000 to $1 million, and the issue as a whole costs the U.S. health care system $4.6 billion a year, according to a 2023 study published on JAMA.

Organizations aren't the only ones trying to reduce burnout-related stressors, though. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a national plan to address mental health obstacles for health care workers attempting to seek help.