Doctors Struggle With Burnout, Study Finds

By Amir Khan on August 21, 2012 8:34 AM EDT

doctor with stethoscope
The long, grueling hours that doctors work are taking their toll on them, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

The long, grueling hours that doctors work are taking their toll on them, according to a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Researchers found that an "alarming" number of doctors are burnt out, and they say an influx of newly insured people will only exacerbate the problem.

Approximately 50 percent of doctors feel burnt out and overworked, the report says -- far more than the researchers thought they would find.

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"The rates are higher than expected," Dr. Tait Shanafelt, study author, told USA Today. "We expected maybe 1 out of 3. Before health care reform takes hold, it's a concern that those docs are already operating at the margins."

The doctors the researchers spoke to said they are constantly asked to see more and more patients, forcing them to spend less time with each one. They likened the job to being on a hamster wheel.

When doctors become overworked, it can decrease the quality of care, increase the risk for errors and cause problems in the doctor's personal lives, according to the study. Researchers said doctors involved in emergency medicine, general internal medicine and neurology showed the greatest rates of burnout.

"There have been other studies done on doctor burnout, but we assumed it was the surgical specialties who would be at primary risk," Shanafelt said. "Instead we found out it's the physicians on the front line of care who are at the greatest risk."

It's not entirely clear why doctors are experiencing burnout in such a large volume, but what is clear is the toll it's taking on healthcare.

"It's very clear that when physicians are becoming burned-out it begins to affect their relationships with other healthcare workers and with patient families," James Wright, chief surgeon at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, told Reuters.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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