A recent American College of Cardiology (ACC) survey of cardiologists published in Cardiology Today reported that 35.4% of respondents had feelings of burnout while 1.6% reported total burnout. In addition, nearly 9% reported concern that they might have made a major medical error in the previous 3 months; 58% of these also reported burnout and 33% reported stress (P < .001). Compared to prior surveys in 2015, burnout among cardiologists has grown by 32%.
Physician burnout has been studied across many medical specialties, with a multitude of factors cited for this growing problem. While healthcare providers view certain attributes of medicine – long shifts, extended time on one’s feet, lack of sleep – as simply part of the job, there are increasing concerns that the health and well-being of physicians are not being prioritized adequately. Although medical professionals clearly understand that their roles will inherently experience very challenging work conditions, burnout is a problem that is on the rise.
One often reported cause for burnout is the burdensome workload of electronic health records, now a standard requirement in U.S. hospitals. Physicians are tasked with a significant administrative workload that often leaves them less time to engage with their patients, or even to take care of their own health.
But aside from added administrative work, physicians face issues of both physical and cognitive stress, some of which can lead to taking leaves of absence or even early retirement. On the physical side, many physician specialties have reported work-related musculoskeletal diseases, including data from interventional cardiologists. Cognitive stress can impact any medical discipline but it is of particular importance in the surgical setting.
Physician demand is projected to grow faster than supply; by the year 2032, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts an estimated physician shortage of between 24,000 and 65,800 in non-primary care specialties. This physician shortage will coincide with the projected 48% rise in Americans over the age of 65, a segment of our population that uses a much larger portion of health care services per capita.
In the coming decade, it will be critical to address burnout among all physicians.
And in our current situation of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, I expect we are facing an aftermath of sharp increases in burnout among all physicians, across all age groups.