Primary care physicians experience more burnout and anxiety than other health professions

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A new study by researchers at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, found that health care professionals were more than twice as likely to report burnout with higher levels of anxiety and frustration than those who reported lower levels of anxiety and frustration. Additionally, primary care physicians reported burnout at twice the rate of other health care professionals in primary care practices, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

Clinician burnout is a growing public health concern, with the National Academy of Sciences reporting that 35-54 percent of U.S. nurses and physicians exhibit substantial symptoms of burnout.

For the study, researchers led by Debora Goldberg, PhD, MHA, MBA, surveyed 1,273 healthcare professionals from 154 primary care practices in Virginia. They used the Change Diagnostic Index (CDI) to assess the participants' feelings, emotions, and attitudes following organizational and technological change.

They found that rates of burnout varied by profession in primary care practices. Physicians reported the highest rates of burnout at 31.6 percent, nearly twice the rate of other staff in these practices: 17.2 percent of advanced practice clinicians, 18.9 percent of clinical support staff, and 17.5 percent of administrative staff.

Physicians who experienced increasing anxiety and withdrawal were more than three times as likely to report burnout compared to those who did not experience high levels of these domains. Anxiety was high across health care professionals and anxiety significantly raised the odds of burnout across healthcare professionals.

The researchers suggest that a better understanding of how health care professionals respond to change and burnout can help guide programs and services to support individuals experiencing burnout and build strong work environments to prevent burnout among healthcare professionals in the future.

“This is not just a physician problem,” said Goldberg in a statement. “These findings tell us that we need to prioritize understanding and addressing clinician burnout at a system level and at a local level. The human cost as well as significant physician shortages expected in the future make this a critical public health concern.”