Physicians also experience higher rates of emotional exhaustion and depression, as well as alcoholism, drug abuse, troubled marriages, and divorce. Given the significant impact on public health, the toll of professional burnout has far more profound consequences than in other professions.
What hurts the physician ultimately hurts the patient, and today’s physicians are hurting.
This epidemic of burnout among doctors, and its negative impact on health care, is increasingly seen as an issue of public health, as evidenced by the many recent articles: “Why Do Doctors Commit Suicide?” published in The New York Times (2014); “Life/Support: Inside the Movement to Save the Mental Health of Today’s Doctors,” published by TIME Magazine (September 1, 2015); and “Doctors Are Human Too,” published by The New York Times (International edition, April 21, 2017).
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, physicians are twice as likely to commit suicide as non-physicians, with an average of 300 to 400 doctors committing suicide every year—more than double the rate in the general population and the equivalent of two to three graduating medical school classes. This phenomenon cuts across all ages, stages, and career paths—from trainees to senior practitioners—and these challenges are not unique to physicians. Nurses and other clinicians experience similar effects on performance, health, and well-being.
Medical training programs should provide positive training environments that empower trainees to report systemic problems or mistreatment without fear of retribution, enhance professional development, and increase morale—something lectures and ethics seminars alone cannot do.
Organizations that invest in the well-being of health care professionals are likely to have medical clinicians who function more effectively and provide better patient care. Ultimately, these investments will benefit physicians, patients, and health care organizations.
Health care professionals’ well-being impacts not only the quality of care provided, but also recruitment and retention. Medical clinicians who are more satisfied with their jobs are more productive, suggesting that small investments can translate into net gains in productivity and clinical outcomes.
Recent efforts to improve health care have focused primarily on decreasing costs and improving access. However, the well-being of health care professionals is essential to improving health care. When practitioners are stressed, the performance of the health care system suffers.
In recent years, graduate medical education has developed programs to focus on aspects of medical trainee performance that negatively impact patient care such as:
- stress and burnout
- professional development
- insufficient training in health care improvement methods