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Addressing Physician Burnout & Bringing More Work/Life Balance To The Practice Of Medicine


The rate of doctors and residents suffering from stress-related burnout has become a major problem in the medical world.  89.1 WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with the dean of the University of Michigan Medical School, Dr. Marschall Runge, about making fundamental changes in the practice of medicine providing doctors and residents with a better work/life balance.  Dr. Runge says that starts with making a culture change in the training and practice of becoming and being a physician.

Mounting evidence shows that stress-related burnout is a significant and growing threat for doctors — and their patients.  If there is a silver lining, it is that the medical community is beginning to acknowledge and address the complex factors at play, recognizing that good health care must include caring for caregivers.

Numerous studies reveal that physician burnout — generally defined as a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism and a low sense of personal accomplishment — is a major problem.

A Medscape survey found that 51 percent of doctors surveyed in 2016 said they experienced burnout, an increase of more than 25 percent since 2013.  This dovetails with a 2015 paper published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings that reported a burnout rate of 54.4 percent in 2014, up from 45.5 percent in 2011.

It is a phenomenon found across all specialties in medicine, regardless of stress levels or time demands.  For physicians, burnout rates are almost twice as high as those found in the general population.

A 2015 Mayo Clinic study reported that roughly 40 percent of physicians suffer depression each year and almost 7 percent had considered suicide within the prior 12 months.  It is estimated that 300 to 400 doctors take their lives every year.

Credit University of Michigan
Dr. Marschall S. Runge is the Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs at the University of Michigan.

Physicians are subjected to very time-consuming administrative activities, much of this from regulations imposed by federal and nonfederal insurers.  And perhaps the single most problematic of these is the time demand of electronic health records.  It is no coincidence that the spike in burnout rates has come at the same time as the broad adoption of EHRs.  Someday, EHRs may revolutionize health care by dramatically increasing our ability to share and review patient information.  But today, EHRs are turning many physicians into clerks.

It can take 32 clicks to order and record a flu shot. Some studies show that doctors now spend about two hours on paperwork and desk work for every hour they devote to patient care.

Personal contact is a major reason people choose careers in medicine, so it is hard to overstate how much this dispiriting lack of contact leads to the depersonalization and depression that are the hallmarks of burnout.

Physician burnout is a national crisis. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Medicine will always be a uniquely demanding profession, requiring years of training and long hours of service to be ready to make life-or-death decisions.

Fortunately, a broad consensus has emerged in the medical community that doctors cannot provide the best care for their patients if we don’t figure out how to take care of them.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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