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HRSA Expert Warns of Clinician Burnout

Dr. Torey Mack, Deputy Associate Administrator of the Bureau of Health Workforce
Dr. Torey Mack, Deputy Associate Administrator of HRSA's Bureau of Health Workforce, told a conference of health center executives meeting in Chicago last month that U.S. clinicians are facing increasing on-the-job stress and professional "burnout" -- in the face of rising demand for services.

Giving voice to federal researchers who say burnout in the health professions is on the rise, HRSA's Dr. Torey Mack told attendees at a joint summit last month that the annual economic cost associated with rising turnover and reduced clinical hours is now about $7,600 per employed physician each year.

Research shows that between 2011 and 2014, burnout increased by 9 percent among physicians, while remaining stable in other U.S. economic sectors, and that U.S. nurses report a similarly high incidence of exhaustion. The cost burden could be as much as $6.3 billion per year to the American health care system.

"Recent studies have found that over half of physicians report experiencing at least some signs of burnout, with family medicine and emergency medicine physicians among those at highest risk," reported BHW's Advisory Committee (PDF - 977 KB) on Training in Primary Care Medicine and Dentistry in 2018.  "The numbers are alarming, and most studies indicate that the problem is growing."   

Mack spoke before a summit of CEOs from some of the country’s largest academic health centers. The two-day conference on clinician well-being was cosponsored by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the National Academy of Medicine  -- all long-time HRSA partners.

Consequences of the trend, researchers have noted, include higher rates of alcohol and substance misuse among health professionals; a markedly higher prevalence of depression and suicide over other occupational groups; and higher incidence of early retirements and resulting "replacement" costs of educating new clinicians to fill the shoes of their burned out peers.

In one of the longest series of studies of their kind, the Agency for Health Research and Quality has found since 2001 that "work conditions, such as time pressure, chaotic environments, low control over work pace, and unfavorable organizational culture, were strongly associated with physicians’ feelings of dissatisfaction, stress, burnout, and intent to leave ... practice."

"It was a great opportunity to engage leaders of the nation's health systems on this important issue," Dr. Mack said of the Chicago conference. "The summit provided a forum not only to address barriers, but also to create a framework of institution-led initiatives and key policy actions to reduce burnout and improve the well-being of our health care providers."

Date Last Reviewed:  January 2020