Physician Staffing Blog

Career Insights

Feeling the Burn: Physician Burnout in America

Merritt Hawkins Team | February 06, 2018

MHA Physicians Burnout in America

Career Dissatisfaction Among Doctors is Growing

By Kurt Mosley

There is an old adage that one human year is equal to seven dog years since dogs age more quickly than we do. The same can be said about healthcare in America over the last five years – it seems we have packed 20 year’s worth of changes into just three or four actual years. Our physicians have dealt with more changes in that short time period than they have since the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. As a result of the ever-expanding amount of changes, burnout has become more common among physicians than any other group of US workers.

A recent survey conducted by Merritt Hawkins on behalf of the Physicians Foundation asked the question: “To what extent do you have feelings of professional burnout in your medical career”? Nearly half of the physicians responding said they had either frequent or constant feelings of burnout. On the flip side of the question, only about 11% indicated they had no such feelings of burnout. According to survey data, physician specialists at the front line of care seem more prone to burnout. Almost 50% of the physician specialists stated they had feelings of professional burnout “often or always”. In addition, more female doctors than male (51% to 47%) reported feelings of frequent or constant burnout.

The key to reducing physician burnout is establishing the root causes. Suggested contributing factors are:

  • Government and industry regulation
  • Non-clinical paperwork
  • Lack of time available for patients
  • Uncertainty of the future of medicine
  • Confidence in career choice

According to the survey, regulatory and paperwork burdens were the most cited factors causing physician dissatisfaction. The fact that physicians report low professional satisfaction due to regulatory and paperwork burdens makes sense as healthcare is the most highly regulated profession in the United States. The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Bill passed in 2010 is over 2,500 pages in length. The new MACRA law, which recently changed the way physicians are now to be paid under Medicare, is over 900 pages. The enactment of Medicare and Medicaid Bill of 1965 was just over 400 pages in length.

The second most frustrating factor cited in the survey was erosion of clinical autonomy. When asked what factors they find most satisfying about medical practice, physicians cited patient relationships (73.8%) as number one. The erosion of clinical autonomy and lack of face-time with patients go hand in hand. The growing number of government regulations and third-party interventions creates an even bigger roadblock for physicians to achieving their goal of developing patient relationships.

We must look at the burdens we are placing on today’s doctors and let them do what they do best. We must support them in their efforts to take care of the healthcare population in the way they see fit. Our doctors spend anywhere from 12 to 16 years training for their profession, but the way they practice is often directed and guided by a person who may have less than 6 months of experience in the healthcare industry. It is time to recognize and correct the issues that cause career dissatisfaction and burnout for doctors in the United States so they can focus on the health and well-being of their patients.

To receive a copy of the full survey report please click here.

A Raised Hand will address the questions and concerns of healthcare facilities on emerging trends and offer practical solutions to some of the most pressing staffing challenges today. Kurt Mosley, Vice President of Strategic Alliances for Merritt Hawkins, an AMN Healthcare company, is nationally recognized as a leading authority on a wide range of health care staffing issues and trends. 

A nationally noted speaker and frequently cited expert, Mr. Mosley has addressed dozens of state hospital associations and other health professional groups across the country.  He can be reached at or you can follow his updates on Twitter at @kurt_mosley.


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