Sad Truth: The Burnout of Doctors

Kristen Sparrow • August 25, 2012


Tired doctor with head in hands
Had enough.

The demoralizing aspect of the health insurance and Medicare situation on doctors goes undiscussed.  Pressed ever harder for time, yet working within the constraints of insurance companies, primary care doctors especially are burning out.  An increasingly thankless, soulless job with excruciating responsibility is a prescription for burnout.  In the most recent New Yorker magazine (subscription only) Atul Gawande makes the case for running hospitals like the Cheese Cake Factory.  I’m not kidding.  I sort of understand his point, but hardly equivalent.  The outcome of a tricky case can depend on extra time spent with a hard of hearing grandmother, and that time should not be in question. Not the same as extra time spent on an omelet.  Few people would sue over the omelet either.  I would think that would be obvious.  After all the training that goes into becoming a doctor it is quite demeaning that their positions are just seen as one more piece in the health puzzle instead of given a key role.  I encourage you to read the entire blog post as well as the very trenchant comments.  I will excerpt a small bit here.  I have been equating the role of physicians in society with teachers for awhile now.  That somehow if you choose to go into those professions it’s a “calling” so you’re not entitled to the sort of life you would have in other professions, finance or even as a real estate broker.

The study casts a grim light on what it is like to practice medicine in the current health care system. A significant proportion of doctors feel trapped, thwarted by the limited time they are allowed to spend with patients, stymied by the ever-changing rules set by insurers and other payers on what they can prescribe or offer as treatment and frustrated by the fact that any gains in efficiency offered by electronic medical records are so soon offset by numerous, newly devised administrative tasks that must also be completed on the computer.
In this setting, “doctors are losing their inspiration,” Dr. Shanafelt said, “and that is a very frightening thing.”
from comments
If you are teacher, you have all that and then add widespread disrespect and scapegoating by politicians about how you are the problem with the educational system and require heavy monitoring and if your “patient” doesn’t “get healthy”, i.e. “learn”, it’s your fault and you should be fired. Welcome to our world.
and this
The most significant factor in physician burnout is the widespread belief in the United States that physicians are flawed creatures bent on harm and mischief.
The truth of the matter is that nurses and physicians are the best that American schools have produced and extraordinary hard workers.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to go into banking, politics, law or be a lobbiest for the NRA.
Americans needs to dial down the whining and entitlement a few notches, and consider how dedicated these health care providers are to work under insurance companies and braindead politicians, in order to help people. When a person works for 60-70 hours a week, on holidays, and weekends, attempting to help people, it is not asking a lot to be civil.
When you make doctors the employees of MBA’s who view them as interchangeable parts in a profit making system, this is what you get. The doctors become high-grade assembly line workers and must treat their patients as money-makers, rather than human beings. Its no wonder they burn out.
The grasping, rich doctor playing golf is largely a myth promoted in part by…the grasping, rich corporate aristocracy playing golf. Come on everyone. Take a real look. The pay of all the physicians in the country takes up around 8% of the health care dollar. Who do you think splits the remaining 92%?
Most of the guys I went to Medical School with wanted to be in a helping profession as their first motivation.