Doctor Burnout. A World Wide Epidemic.

Burnout is the modern day pandemic affecting the medical profession. It is a condition that many of us are still in denial of. After all, it can’t be seen on a biopsy result or under an electron microscope, so how real can it be?!

Very real.

Up to 59% of doctors are burnt out, and the rates of burnout have increased over the last 10 years. It would be unlikely to consider that this is simply because there is greater awareness of the condition.

50% of medical students and 70% junior doctors are reported to be burnt out.

This is staggering, and these results are across the board globally. Not just the USA and not just UK. These are overall global professional rates of burnout and the rates are deeply alarming.

Even if we had 30% of the profession suffering from burnout, this would still be a pandemic, yet there is not the global attention to this matter that it deserves.

If there was an outbreak of influenza or a critical disease globally that was wiping out even 5% of people and removing them from the work force, there would be a world wide inquiry.

Yet here we have matters where there are 59% rates of burnout, over half of the entire medical profession, including students, and there is no world wide inquiry into what is going on in medicine.

Certainly there is no vaccine likely to be available, but the matter is critical.

Ought not the World Health Organisation be taking a key interest in this matter?

Ought there not be a global inquiry into the culture of medicine and the attitudes of medicine towards doctors and health care professionals?

The WHO has released a report stating that there is a world wide epidemic of chronic non communicable diseases, yet there is no report stating that there is a world wide epidemic of high level dysfunction in our doctors, the very people that are caring for those with illness and disease.

The health of our global population is clearly in crisis with increasing rates of illness and disease to the extent that the WHO has said there is a world wide epidemic of chronic non communicable diseases.

We need healthy health care providers to lead the way

If our health care providers are in a state of ill health, which is what burnout is, then we have an even bigger crisis on our hands.

These rates of burnout represent the fact that the medical profession is in crisis, and with it our global future health care is in crisis, at a time when we need healthy health care providers more than ever.

Burnout is not a simple matter of being a little bit tired. It is associated with higher rates of:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue – both physical and emotional
  • Increased risk of medical errors
  • Decreased rates of patient satisfaction,
  • Causes people to leave the medical profession
  • Higher rates of suicidal thoughts and increased risk of suicide (in a profession where the rate of suicide is already 2-4 times higher than the general population)
  • Higher rates of cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal pain
  • Deep professional unhappiness and cynicism
  • Depersonalisation and decreased understanding and compassion

Neither of which are features desirable or sustainable in someone who is dealing with people in situations that are incredibly trying.

Burnout is not something that is random affecting a few ‘sensitive’ people with ‘poor coping skills’. It quite specifically affects over half of the medical profession, people who specifically enter a profession because they are dedicated to caring for others.

We need to stop and ask not only why, but how.

Are we to blame the ‘nature of the person’ choosing to do medicine, and blame them for simply ‘not coping’ ? Or perhaps rather is it time to take a wider look at the global culture of medicine that fails to nurture the people that do medicine?

Being in a war zone and in the armed forces is highly stressful as I am sure that we would all agree and understand. Yet people who have been in the army and in a war zone report that medicine is far more stressful. This does not make sense given that we say that we are a caring profession that values and cares for people.

I have heard people formerly in the army say they were more cared for as people in the army and given greater respect and compassion as people than they have been in medicine.

It is clear that there is a big issue here.

Doctors are people too. If we are to be true to medicine and its foundations of care for all people, then we must equally care for the health and well-being of those who are doing their best to care for others, those within the profession.

Literally over half of our medical profession is burnt out. This is not simply a matter of a few people being a bit tired from too much work to be decried for ‘not coping’. This is an institutionalised issue, a world wide crisis and one that global attention needs to be paid to.

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3 thoughts on “Doctor Burnout. A World Wide Epidemic.

  1. I would say burnout is begins at the beginning, when training begins the system is already bleeding people dry… Before they even start they are exhausted. There absolutely needs to be a focus on looking after self in an unsupportive industry and then how to to turn around an unsupportive industry into a supportive one. Simple selfcare is key, yet how many of us struggle with the basics like sleep, diet & excercise?

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  2. Hear Hear Dr Maxine – this is a much needed article – and ought to be the front page of all newspapers everywhere… and for us all to ask why and how this is the case in our front line caring professionals.

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  3. Given the illness and disease rates that have skyrocketed in the last decades – and more and more serious illness and multiple serious illness is becoming normalised – (‘oh and just the usual arthritis’ as we hear people say and similar) – it is understandable that the rates alone and th complexity of cases – coupled with ‘fix me’ metality – would have an impact on those of the front line of this pressure.
    It is the most common approach when going to our GP’s not to ask how we have been living that has contributed to our illness and what changes we might make – but far more likely we go with a flavour of wanting someone to ‘fix’ our ills – give us answers – and remove our symptoms – preferably as quickly as possible with least effort or understanding on our behalf – or on the other hand be sceptical and attacking of the medical profession. I cannot imagine being bombarded by person after person coming with these expectations and pressures. Your article is an eye opener Dr Maxine – our Doctors are burning out at a massive rate and it is time we all collectively looked at why and how – what part do our societies attitudes to illness and disease play, and what role are we expecting of our medical professionals and of ourselves. Thank you – you really got me stopping to consider this – and how I personally approach our very dear amazing local GP next time I have call to visit.

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