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Success Story: Recognize and Address 4 Risk Factors for Burnout

Based on an American Medical Association news article published March 4, 2019 and an interview with Christine Sinsky, MD, MACP, Vice President, Professional Satisfaction, American Medical Association.

Learn how to address 4 risk factors for burnout and minimize their impact on physicians.

What Was the Problem?

Workplace pressures tend to dominate the discussion on physician burnout, but for many doctors there are substantial risk factors at play even before they pick up their stethoscopes to start another day of practice.

Those factors are tied to gender, age, and relationships. Research establishing those connections adds to the understanding of the burnout crisis threatening the well-being of patients and physicians, and the stability of the health care system.

Authors of a discussion paper looked at numerous studies on burnout and identified many factors driving the phenomenon among physicians.1 There are 10 work-related factors associated with burnout, including private practice, incentive pay pressures, and clerical burdens. The current state of physician demographic characteristics also points to a higher risk for physician burnout.

These are 4 factors that are associated with an increased risk for physician burnout.

Figure 1. Four Factors That Increase Risk of Burnout

1. Gender

Female physicians have 30% to 60% increased odds of experiencing burnout, according to several studies cited by the authors. However, the authors also noted that “gender is not consistently an independent predictor of burnout after adjusting for age and other factors.”1

Physician burnout is defined by 3 elements—emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lost sense of personal accomplishment—but the discussion paper also addressed depression among female physicians. The authors noted that female doctors “are more likely to experience symptoms of depression than male physicians.”1

However, the authors also stated that depression was “not more common among female physicians than other females in the general population.”

2. Age

Younger physicians, defined as those doctors less than 55 years of age, are 200% more likely to experience symptoms of burnout compared with their older peers.

3. Family life

The physician-parent of a child younger than 21 years old faces 54% increased odds of burnout.

A physician with a spouse or partner employed as a nonphysician health care provider has 23% increased odds of burnout.

4. Workplace factors

Several of the workplace-related risk factors listed in the discussion paper also indicate a strong potential for overlap with a physician's private or family life. They include night or weekend on call, performing work tasks at home, home-work conflicts, or working too many hours.

Developing the Intervention

Systems solutions can help doctors

The principal focus of addressing the physician burnout crisis has been—and can be expected to remain—the implementation of improvements in the workplace. That's the setting for the often-flawed processes, technologies, and work cultures closely linked to burnout.

Most physicians now report some degree of burnout and the problem cuts across all demographic lines within the profession.

“The majority of burnout is related to systems factors,” said Christine Sinsky, MD. “The most effective ways to reduce burnout are through systems improvement.”

Progress in the workplace at the systems level can help with the personal factors noted in the report. Physicians who have optimized teamwork or have improved workflow “have been able to go home an hour or more earlier every night,” she added.

“Whether you are male or female, a parent or non-parent, that extra time can go a long way to restoring your sense of well-being,” said Dr Sinsky.

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Article Information

Disclosure Statement: Unless noted, all individuals in control of content reported no relevant financial relationships.

Dyrbye  LN, Shanafelt  TD, Sinsky  CA,  et al.  Burnout among health care professionals: a call to explore and address this Underrecognized threat to safe, high-quality care.  NAM Perspectives. July 5 , 2017. Accessed August 22, 2020. doi:10.31478/201707bGoogle Scholar

Disclaimer: AMA STEPS Forward® content is provided for informational purposes only, is believed to be current and accurate at the time of posting, and is not intended as, and should not be construed to be, legal, financial, medical, or consulting advice. Physicians and other users should seek competent legal, financial, medical, and consulting advice. AMA STEPS Forward® content provides information on commercial products, processes, and services for informational purposes only. The AMA does not endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes, or services and mention of the same in AMA STEPS Forward® content is not an endorsement or recommendation. The AMA hereby disclaims all express and implied warranties of any kind related to any third-party content or offering. The AMA expressly disclaims all liability for damages of any kind arising out of use, reference to, or reliance on AMA STEPS Forward® content.


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