Physician Stress Factor

As the country deals with a physician shortage, doctors are feeling the stress, according to a survey by Physician Wellness Services and Cejka Search. Over the last three years stress has increased moderately to dramatically for 63% of physicians. Overall, 86% of physicians reported being moderately to severely stressed on an average day.

The high amount of burned out physicians is a big problem considering the U.S. is facing a physician shortage even before the millions of new patients enter the health system.

"Physician stress and burnout can drive turnover, which is highly disruptive and expensive for a medical practice," said Lori Schutte, Cejka Search president, in a statement. "In this time of physician shortage, turnover causes additional stress for the remaining staff, the loss of revenue and the expense and challenge of recruiting new physicians. The survey underscores the need for organizations to recognize physicians' stress and take action to improve retention."

The stress physicians face is causing a number of issues that affect not only the physicians, but their patients as well when the stress results in apathy and an increased risk of medical errors. Such high stress leads to increased turnover and recruitment challenges as physicians look for better work environments.

Stress had led to 14% of respondents leaving their practices and is the biggest obstacle to handling the physician shortage. The survey found that there is declining job satisfaction coupled with a desire to retire early or leave the practice of medicine entirely.

According to the survey, physicians say there is a need for nurse practitioners and physician assistants so physicians can scale back hours while still giving patients effective care. A third reported that this could let them pursue a better work/life balance and reduce stress.

Only 15% of respondents say their organizations do anything to help them deal with their stress or burnout.

"While administrators can't control external stress factors such as reimbursement and government policies, there is tremendous opportunity for them to better understand and recognize that physicians are stressed and provide them with services and support so they can have more energy, achieve better work/life balance, and be more resilient in order to effectively manage their stress," said Alan Rosenstein, MD, medical director of Physician Wellness Services, in a statement.

There are a number of factors that cause stress for physicians, both work related and external. According to respondents the top external factors are the economy, health care reform, Medicare and Medicaid policies, and unemployed and uninsured patients. The top work-related factors are administrative demands, long hours, on-call schedules and concerns about malpractice lawsuit.