The burnout rate among Sedgwick County physicians is higher than the national rate, according to a new survey by the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.
The survey, conducted in mid-2018 among members of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County, found that 49.5% of MSSC doctors reported burnout compared to the national rate of 43.9%.
“I was surprised by this,” says Rick Kellerman, MD, one of the study’s co-authors. “I thought, ‘We’re in Sedgwick County, we’ll be lower than the national average.’”
Survey co-author Samuel Ofei-Dodoo, PhD, and Dr. Kellerman — from the KUSM-Wichita Department of Family and Community Medicine — presented their findings at the May meeting of the MSSC. The study results have also been published in the Kansas Journal of Medicine.
Between July and August 2018, the survey was sent to 872 MSCC member physicians, with 197 responding. The survey looked at not only just the rate of burnout but also at other signs of emotional distress and overall quality of life.
“Job burnout is an experience not a diagnosis of chronic distress,” Ofei-Dodoo says. “It’s a warning signal that all is not well between the person and their job.”
“While 85% of the participants rated their overall quality of life as good/very good, 45% screened positive for depression, 5% had thoughts of suicide in the past year and 44% reported excessive fatigue in the week” before answering the survey, according to the survey results. About half of the physicians in the study reported working as many as 50 to 69 hours a week; 15% reported working 70 hours or more.
The proportion of physicians in the MSSC study who screened positive for depression (45%) is also higher than the national average of 41.7% reported in a 2017 study by researchers with the American Medical Association, Mayo Clinic and the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The KUSM-Wichita study also looked at burnout rates by age groups and found the highest rate was reported among physicians ages 45 to 54 with 56.5%, followed closely by those ages 35 to 44 years at 55.6% and then by those ages 55 to 64 (51.9%). Physicians in those three age categories comprised the largest portion of the survey participants, with 54 participants falling into each of the ages 35–44 category and the ages 55–64 category, while 46 participants were in the 45–54 age category. Half of the eight doctors in the 25–34 age category reported burnout. Physicians in the 65 years and older category (22 participants) had a 13.6 percent burnout rate.
Ofei-Dodoo and Dr. Kellerman have also studied the burnout rate among KUSM-W residents and among medical students at the three campuses of KU’s medical school. The residents reported a burnout rate of 51.1%, with students at the Wichita campus reporting a 50% rate and those at the Kansas City campus reporting a slightly lower rate at 48.3%. The Salina campus students reported a 33.3.% rate.
While the researchers called the survey results “a snapshot” of physician burnout in Wichita, the results seem to indicate that “on any given day, 50% of our physicians experience some form of job stress,” Ofei-Dodoo says.
Burnout rates among U.S. workers since 2011 have held steady around 28%, while the burnout rate among physicians has remained over 40% in that same time frame. After climbing to 54.4% in 2014, nationally the rate has been going down, reaching 43.9% in 2017, according to the 2017 AMA/Mayo Clinic/Stanford medical school study.
Physician burnout has become a key concern for the AMA since it’s been associated with the decrease in the quality of patient care, an increase in the number of medical errors, an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts and depression, substance abuse and a stronger intention to leave the profession.