What is Physician Burnout and How Common Is It?

“Burnout” has become a very common term in the American lexicon. In fact, you have probably heard numerous people tell you that they are “burned out.” It could be a friend or a spouse expressing frustrations with the demand of a job, or one of our children announcing that they are burned out from school. In each of these instances, the phrase is used more as a casual expression. But can the concept of burnout rise to the level of a formal condition or syndrome? In this article, we will discuss burnout in the medical profession and the possible resulting consequences.

The Study of Burnout

Researchers and scientists have studied the concept of burnout for many years. However, while people understand the meaning of burnout in general, it has been difficult to reach consensus on a scientific definition. An American psychologist named Herbert Freudenberger published an article in 1974 that treated burnout as a medical syndrome.

The World Health Organization (WHO) now classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon. The International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD - 11, published by WHO) states that “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” According to the ICD-11, burnout is characterized by the following:

1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 

  1. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and 
  2. a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. 

How Is Burnout Affecting Medical Professionals?

The issue of burnout has affected physicians for years and continues to do so. Medscape conducted a survey of over 15,000 physicians and created a 2020 report. In the survey, 42 percent of physicians labeled themselves as burned out. Women report higher levels of burnout than men. 

The report notes that through the last five years, the following specialties have been some of the hardest hit:

  • Critical care
  • Emergency medicine
  • Family medicine 
  • Internal medicine
  • Neurology
  • Urology

The Medscape report further identifies the following as the top 4 most common factors cited by professionals that lead to their burnout:

  1. Number of bureaucratic tasks such as paperwork and charting.
  2. Working too many hours.
  3. Inadequate respect from employers, administrators, and other co-workers.
  4. Growing computerization of medical practice.

Effects of Burnout: Conditions for Medical Malpractice

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), physician burnout can harm patient care in a number of ways. First, doctors suffering from burnout may leave their practices, which limits the availability of health care.

Additionally, physicians who are burned out often feel exhausted. They may have impaired memory and attention deficits. These circumstances can lead to medical malpractice, which harms patients. Similarly, because burned out physicians feel distanced from their jobs, their patient interactions may suffer. This can also lead to medical malpractice.

Call with Questions

Like many professionals, physicians have tough, demanding jobs. However, if they fail to meet the applicable standard of care, their mistakes can cause tremendous harm and even death. The medical field and public at large should be aware of the potential legal and public health risks of physician burnout.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to the mistakes of a doctor or other medical care professional, you likely have questions about your rights. The experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are here to answer those questions. We can help you evaluate your case and if medical malpractice exists, we can help you hold the wrongdoer accountable for his or her actions. We believe that is the only way we can help keep all of society safe. Please give us a call today.


Call us at 1.877.928.9147 For A Free Consultation!

Awards & Recognitions

The American Association for Justice award logo Oregon Trial Lawyers Association Membership Badge Nelson MacNeil Rayfield Trial Attorneys PC BBB Business Review
AV Preeminent Award for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. The highest peer rating standard. Super Lawyers Award Logo

We are proud sponsors of:

NMR sponsored Boys and Girls Club of Albany, The YMCA, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and more.