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We all know what it’s like to feel a little bit of work “burn out”. Regardless of your chosen profession, if you’ve had to work long hours and a grueling schedule, you can likely identify with the dread of heading back to work after the weekend, the lack of motivation at the end of a long day or the struggle to focus on the task at hand. When that happens, work suffers. So, consider what could happen when burn out affects members of the medical profession. A recent survey of physicians gives us a glimpse at how pervasive a problem this is for those who are taking care of us.

The study on physician burnout was conducted by researchers from the Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association. It involved surveying 7,288 physicians in 2011 using a questionnaire called the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). The questionnaire, which included 22 questions, sought to assess physicians’ feelings of burnout—such as emotional exhaustion or losing enthusiasm for their work, feelings of cynicism or depersonalization; and a low sense of personal accomplishment. There were additional questions about satisfaction with work-life balance, feelings of depression or suicide, and how long they worked each week.

Results of the study indicate cause for concern when it comes to physician burnout. A total of 45.8% of physicians experienced at least one symptom of burnout. But when broken down by specialty, that number changes. Emergency medicine, general internal medicine, neurology and family medicine had the highest rates of burnout. Other specialties like pathology, dermatology, general pediatrics and preventive medicine had the lowest rates. But what that means for most of us is that our first line of defense in healthcare—the primary care physicians—are showing the highest levels of burnout.

This information is significant because other studies have linked burnout with adverse effects on the work that physicians do. It negatively impacts professionalism, quality of care, and the likelihood of medical errors. On a more personal level, it can contribute to broken relationships, alcohol use, and suicidal tendencies.

In light of the data they collected, the research classified their findings as suggesting “a highly prevalent and systemic problem threatening the foundation of the U.S. medical care system.” The burnout, in their estimation, is linked to their working environment and the healthcare delivery system. That means that policy makers and health care organization have their work cut out for them when it comes to addressing burnout.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.

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