New Survey Shows Significant Increase in Physician Burnout
The pandemic is impacting the mental health and well-being of physicians.
Posted August 19, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- Over 60 percent of physicians often experience feelings of burnout, according to a survey by the Physicians Foundation.
- Burnout involves excessive demands and extreme emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion.
- The suicide rate is about twice as high among doctors than people in the general population.
The pandemic is significantly impacting the mental health and well-being of physicians. A new 2021 survey by the Physicians Foundation shows that 61 percent of physicians often experience feelings of burnout—a massive increase from 40 percent in 2018. One pioneering doctor, Dr. Jonathan Fisher, Chair and Co-Founder of the upcoming Ending Physician Burnout Global Summit, is actively leading the way towards ending physician burnout.
“About five years ago I started speaking out about my own journey of healing,” said Dr. Fisher. “They haven’t all been good years. In fact, I missed about a decade because of hiding my own anxiety, depression, and really pretending to be something beyond a human being, which was an expectation put upon me and so many of our colleagues.”
Burnout occurs when constant excessive demands on a person cause the emotional circuits to become more and more overloaded to the point where the person finds themselves in a state of extreme emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. The term burnout was coined by the late German-born American psychoanalyst Herbert J. Freudenberger in order to describe symptoms of mental malaise and exhaustion due to persistent stress and demands.
Dr. Fisher’s reason for creating the summit runs deep. His aims to create an environment and culture in health care that “never allows another medical student who’s coming in wide-eyed and optimistic to have their passion stripped away,” and “to never allow a nurse who wants nothing more than to care for patients to feel beaten down, exhausted, and not respected.”
The American Hospital Association (AHA) estimates that each year 400 physicians commit suicide, and hundreds more have suicidal thoughts. Per the AHA, female doctors have a higher suicide completion rate than male doctors, and the suicide completion rate among physicians is 44 percent higher than the expected population.
“The rate of suicide among physicians is twice that of the general population, and because of the pandemic, rates are rising,” said Dr. Fisher, a Harvard and Mount Sinai-trained cardiologist with 20 years of clinical experience and an organizational resilience and well-being program leader for a team of 30,000 at Novant Health.
“People don’t always realize that doctors are struggling,” said Dr. Fisher. “I firmly believe that if our physicians can be helped to thrive, every one of us will benefit.”
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