Don't Drop That Scalpel: Nearly Half of Doctors Experiencing 'Burnout'

Nearly half of U.S. doctors experiencing 'burnout stress' that can affect patient care.

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Nearly half of all American doctors say they're burnt out by their jobs, according to a new survey conducted by the Mayo Clinic.

According to the survey, nearly 46 percent of all physicians say they're currently experiencing either emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (they think of their patients as objects, not people), or a low sense of personal accomplishment. More than 6 percent said they have thought of suicide at least once over the past year, and more than a third show symptoms of depression.

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"Without wanting to sound heroic about this, the vast majority of doctors put the patient first and sacrifice themselves," says Colin West, a doctor in the Mayo Clinic's department of internal medicine and health sciences research and coauthor of the report. "But [burnout] has been associated with patients not being as satisfied with their care."

According to the study, doctors are more burnt out than other people with advanced degrees and work, on average, about 10 hours more per week than the average American. Doctors who are involved on the "front lines" of the medical industry, such as those who work in emergency rooms or are primary care doctors are most likely to be burnt out, according to the study. Most specialists, including those who often deal with end-of-life scenarios are less likely to report feeling burnt out.

"We don't have a great understanding of what drives burnout and distress," West says. "But it seems to have much to do with having control or autonomy over what you do. On the front lines, whoever comes in the door is unpredictable and you have to respond to a lot of different situations."

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End-of-life doctors, meanwhile have often been trained to deal with the stress of a patient dying and often feel that helping a patient navigate the death of a loved one is a privilege, according to West.

He says all doctors need to undergo better stress management training and need to be allowed to have a better work-life balance, but budget shortages and a changing healthcare system could increase doctors' stress levels.

"Anything that makes a doctor unable to connect with patients is important for the profession," he says. "We can't just tell doctors these problems are out there and cope with them better. We need to better understand why this is happening."

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com