March 16, 2017
2 min read

New survey contradicts earlier estimates of family physician burnout

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The frequency of burnout among board-certified family physicians was just under 25% in a new survey, with younger family physicians and women at particularly high risk, according to results published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

Researchers acknowledged their findings are in conflict with other research, and stressed that any feelings of burnout need to be avoided.

“Our data suggest that prevalence of burnout may be lower than previously reported for family physician in general,” James C. Puffer, MD, president and CEO, American Board of Family Medicine, and colleagues wrote.

The researchers cited studies that appeared in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2015 as an example. In the first study, more than 50% of all physicians and 63% of family physicians reported burnout. In the second study, as many as 40% of physicians indicated burnout symptoms, despite indicating that their job is “highly satisfying.”

Puffer and colleagues administered the Mini Z burnout survey to 2,099 American Board of Family Physicians members when they took their re-certification exams. Burnout was defined as answering positively to three of the five options that ask the participant to choose which best describes their definition of burnout. According to the researchers, 100% of the participants responded; 24.5% reporting having burnout as indicated by their parameters, and almost 40% of women were at risk for burnout.

The researchers stated that although only about 2.3% of American Board of Family Medicine members took part in the survey, it is still indicative of that group’s members who are more than 5 years out of residency.

They noted that felt these findings should be explored in more detail, so that perhaps the percentages experiencing burnout could go even lower.

“[These] are intriguing findings that deserve further investigation. Better understanding of and addressing the correlated characteristics found in these and subsequent data may help improve professional satisfaction and increase the well-being of family physicians,” Puffer and colleagues wrote.

In a related commentary, Mark Linzer, MD, and Sara Poplau, BA, both of the division of general internal medicine, Hampton County Medical Center, Minneapolis, suggested that Puffer’s team may have placed too much significance on the answer to one Mini Z question to come up with the percentage that felt burnout. In regards to female family physicians being more at risk for burnout, Linzer and Poplau suggested that these doctors are prone to more responsibilities at home, and are expected to be better listeners and typically have more hectic work schedules than their male counterparts. When it came to the younger family medicine doctors feeling overwhelmed, the authors suggested that older physicians have found ways to be more resilient, and consider themselves survivors.


They highlighted a 2014 study that uses clinician wellness as a quality metric for ways to drive the burnout rates down even farther.

“Practices and large health care systems will need to one, allow clinicians to share control of schedules and workloads, two, reduce stress brought on by the EMR by using scribes and EMR usability studies, and three, promote team-based care,” they wrote.

Linzer and Poplau also said the one-of-a-kind circumstances female physicians experience will also need addressed and encouraged readers to not ignore the burnout problem any longer.

“We applaud Puffer and his team for their new data. Let us put it to use promptly,” they wrote. “The care of our patients, and the future of our profession, may depend on it.”

The Mayo Clinic’s Program on Physician Well-Being also recently offered strategies to reverse physician burnout, including fostering a community atmosphere and strategically offering rewards and incentives. – by Janel Miller


Disclosure: Linzer and Poplau report no relevant disclosures. Puffer is employed by the American Board of Family Medicine. Please see the study for a full list of the other researchers’ relevant financial disclosures.