Career & Healthcare Industry

Report: Professional Fulfillment among Physicians Trending Downward

Published August 12, 2023

Nearly half of working physicians are unsure if they would decide to practice medicine again if given the choice.

According to a new report from the Mayo Clinic, nearly half of working physicians are unsure if they would decide to practice medicine again if given the choice. This startling statistic comes from data collected two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and aligns with concerns from advocate groups like the American Medical Association (AMA) that burnout is exacting a heavy toll on today’s medical professionals.

Looking at the survey numbers

To conduct the study, the Mayo Clinic, Stanford University School of Medicine, AMA, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine surveyed 2,440 physicians between December 2021 and January 2022. The respondent pool included 24 specialties.

The resulting report (“Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Integration in Physicians Over the First 2 Years of the COVID-19 Pandemic”) found that only 57.1% of doctors say they would choose their profession again — while 42.9% said they were unsure if they would again. 

These numbers are in stark contrast to prior years’ surveys, highlighting the significant impact that the pandemic has had on industry morale. The percentage of doctors who said they would practice medicine again if given the chance was:

  • 72.2% in 2020 

  • 68.5% in 2017 

  • 67% in 2014 

  • 70.2% in 2011

The survey also reports a downward trend in professional fulfillment scores. Only 22.4% of respondents reported being professionally fulfilled in 2021, nearly halving the 40% score from the same survey just a year earlier. 

Survey respondents, however, reported a rising trend in burnout symptoms. Researchers asked doctors to indicate how they felt on “emotional exhaustion” and “depersonalization” scales. Compared to 2020 numbers, manifestations of at least one of these symptoms of burnout nearly doubled in 2021, jumping from 38.2% to 62.8%.

What’s fueling these trends?

Several of the report’s findings point to likely causes of rising dissatisfaction and burnout among doctors. For instance, satisfaction with work-life integration (WLI) fell in 2021. Less than one-third (30.3% of respondents) “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that their job left them enough personal/family time. Just a year earlier, 46.1% of respondents reported that they agreed or strongly agreed with this, indicating staffing shortages and long hours have continued to negatively impact physicians.

In another example, the survey found that the odds ratio for burnout among women doctors was significantly higher (2.02) than for male doctors (1.27). As Mayo Clinic’s summary points out, COVID-19 exacerbated “the long-documented increased risk for burnout and work-life conflict in women physicians.” Cited causes of this increased risk include age and gender discrimination, professional isolation, and stresses associated with family responsibilities.

Financial pressures faced by physicians, including high student debt levels, reimbursement rates not keeping pace with inflation, and wage stagnation, further contribute to rising burnout rates. Physicians shouldn’t have to contend with even more stress when managing their finances. At Earned Wealth, our advisors specialize in wealth management for physicians and understand industry realities. For experienced guidance with career advisory, retirement planning, investing, tax planning, and more, contact us for a consultation. 

Protecting doctors and preventing burnout

Addressing these trends is not only critical for the wellbeing of physicians but of their patients, as well. As the report warns, given the correlation between burnout and medical errors, staff turnover, and rising healthcare costs, “these findings also have potentially critical implications for the US health care delivery system.”

The AMA, who helped conduct the research, outlines a number of measures the industry should take to protect doctors and the integrity of the care they provide their patients. One such measure is to adopt solutions that ease the administrative “in-basket” burden on doctors, citing the fact that patient messages increased by 57% over the pandemic. According to the AMA, Atrius Health has been successful at cutting physician inbox volume by 25% — and, as discussed elsewhere on this blog, emerging companies are hoping to reduce a similar burden of electronic health record (EHR) management by leveraging artificial intelligence. 

The AMA also details changes to workplace culture to help counteract causes of burnout. They recommend installing a Chief Wellness Officer (CWO) to assess and tackle systemic challenges physicians face at work. Organizational changes, like implementing team-based care and improving ​​local leadership, can also help reduce burnout, as well. 

Perhaps most importantly, the AMA recommends that organizations listen to physicians to pinpoint causes of stress and burnout. Regularly soliciting feedback from doctors and/or hiring third-party firms to perform organizational assessments, measure well-being, and make granular workplace recommendations can be transformative.

Where Earned Wealth can help

With decades of combined experience, the expert advisors at Earned Wealth are more than aware of industry realities today’s physicians face in the workplace. Our firm is dedicated to assisting doctors navigate career decisions and their financial implications. We also help manage the complexities of wealth management, giving physicians the 360-degree guidance and digital tools they need to stay assured about their long-term financial health. 

If you’re a physician with concerns about making a career transition , investing wisely, saving for retirement, minimizing taxes, or other financial matters, Earned Wealth is ready to help. Contact our team to get started. 

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