Levels of doctor burnout, depression may be creating public health problem, research suggests

     Burnout and depression among all doctors have been getting worse for 10 years, says Dr. John Becher of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.(Leaf/Bigstock)

    Burnout and depression among all doctors have been getting worse for 10 years, says Dr. John Becher of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.(Leaf/Bigstock)

    Burnout among physicians is a serious issue. Half of all physicians report feeling that way, according to some studies.

    A new paper, published on the National Academy of Medicine’s Perspectives site, has called it a public health problem.

    The paper focused on specifically on osteopathic physicians. But the level of burnout was roughly the same for MDs as well, the authors said.

    Burnout and depression among all doctors have been getting worse for 10 years, said Dr. John Becher of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

    “This is due to a lot of factors,” said Becher, who was part of a task force that wrote the paper. “One of the largest factors is that for many, many years physicians have practiced medicine and really haven’t paid attention to their own health. It was more like, ‘Physician, heal thyself.'”

    Dr. Jack Ende, president of the American College of Physicians, said it’s ironic, because medical advances should make this a joyful time to be a doctor.

    “We’re now able to look patients with HIV in the eyes and say, ‘If you take your medicine, you’re going to have a normal lifespan,'” he said. “It’s ironic, and it’s an absolute shame that — at this point in medicine — we see doctors that have become dispirited.”

    But it’s also a public health issue, said Becher. How could a doctor, who doesn’t feel well, provide consistent and quality treatment for patients, he asked

    Depression and burnout also can alter someone’s judgment, which is alarming because making tough calls is part of a doctor’s job.

    The paper recommends licensing boards work to promote physician wellness, and offer professional development courses for doctors that stress mindfulness and life-work balance. Adding programs at the medical school level that encourage students to step forward when they’re having trouble would also help, said Becher.

    On the MD side, Ende said his organization is interested in reducing paperwork, allowing them to spend more time on their patients.

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