Physician burnout: Even entry-level, hourly workers get bathroom breaks | Geneia

Physician burnout: Even entry-level, hourly workers get bathroom breaks

October 22, 2019
Heather Lavoie, President


"When all of the scheduled patients show up it makes work unbearable. Taking a break to use the bathroom or eat is then a luxury!" - Burned out physician

“When all of the scheduled patients show up it makes work unbearable. Taking a break to use the bathroom or eat is then a luxury!”

So said one of the employed physicians we recently surveyed when asked, “What other issues areas are important to consider when employers of physicians are prioritizing workplace programs to address physician burnout and stress?”

Last week, we released the results of a national physician survey commissioned to identify solutions to epidemic levels of physician burnout and dissatisfaction among employed doctors. The survey showed physicians are still burned out, and in part, long to be treated like the valued employees they are. 

The survey findings mirrored those from our initial survey in 2015 and a follow-up survey in 2018, which found that the Physician Misery Index had increased to 3.94 out of 5:

  • Eight in 10 (84 percent ) say the quality time doctors are able to spend with patients has decreased in the last 10 years.
  • More than three-quarters (77 percent) know a physician who is likely to stop practicing medicine in the next five years due to burnout.
  • Nearly three-quarters of surveyed physicians (74 percent) say the challenges of practicing medicine in today’s environment have caused them to consider career options outside of clinical practice.
  • An overwhelming majority (83 percent) say they are personally at risk for burnout at some point in their career.

2019 Survey findings mirror surveys from 2015, 2018 - Physician Misery Index increased to 3.94 out of 5

If you’ve been following the issue of physician dissatisfaction as long as I have, you won’t be surprised to learn that nearly all physicians (97 percent) agree with the following statements:

“Physician burnout and dissatisfaction are deeply connected to the data collection and other non-clinical demands that are placed on physicians. To address burnout employers of physicians need to put much greater emphasis on increasing the current allocation of time per patient that physicians spend with patients.”

“Curbing physician burnout is an absolutely critical and necessary component for employers to address. If employers of physicians do not do something quickly to sustain and keep physicians satisfied, we won’t have the quality workforce we need.”

The Surprises in Geneia's New Physician Survey

What did surprise me about our recent survey is the longing physicians have to be treated like the valued employees they are. As one of my Geneia colleagues aptly noted, 

“We revere physicians, and our good health rests on their shoulders. Yet, too many aren’t afforded the basic employee benefits of bathroom breaks and time to eat during the work day.” 

As Geneia’s president, I know the desire to have enough time and support to do one’s job is an issue many employers – including me – struggle with, as is employee engagement.

While this realization is sobering, I also find it encouraging. 

As one who has closely studied physician dissatisfaction for more than five years, I know it’s a complex issue, and there’s no silver bullet to restore the joy of medicine. Undoubtedly, EHRs remain a well-deserved lightning rod for physicians, and the health IT industry needs to step up its commitment to improving the usability of technology, but there are other remediable, workforce issues like work-life balance, healthy and accessible food options, and time to take breaks and vacations that are likely to improve the satisfaction of employed physicians.

Geneia survey points to ways employers of physicians can begin to tackle physician burnout. 

When asked about prioritizing workplace programs to address physician burnout and stress, nearly all physicians (97 percent) said it is important to focus on work-life balance programs followed by a focus on reducing physician hours (82 percent), availability of mental and physical wellness resources (76 percent), building team unity (70 percent) and professional and leadership development (66 percent.)

The survey results also demonstrated the need to address physicians’ personal wellness. When asked to rate the value of different ways to offer personal wellness opportunities in the workplace, healthy and accessible food options (82 percent value; 44 percent strongly value), comfort-designed lounge areas (70 percent value; 33 percent strongly value), and yoga and fitness classes (63 percent value; 30 percent strongly value) were ranked high by surveyed physicians.

Join Geneia in Helping to Restore the Joy of Medicine

As I’ve said many times, there’s more we all can – and should – do to restore the joy of medicine to practicing physicians. Their good health – and ours – depends on it.

  • Get the Joy of Medicine pin, and proudly wear it. Visit [insert URL] to sign up for a pin.
  • All healthcare and health IT companies are invited to join Geneia in monitoring and addressing physician satisfaction and to use the company’s nine-question physician survey. 
  • If your organization employs physicians, recognize that your physicians want to be treated like the valued employees they are. They want to be heard, engaged and cared for just as most employees do, including time for bathroom breaks, lunch and vacations. Most of all, they want time to create impactful relationships with their patients, which is likely why they chose to become doctors.

Survey Methodology

Geneia commissioned ELR Research to conduct a nationwide survey among physicians who practice medicine full-time and are employed by corporate or hospital owned entities. Interviewing of 401 physicians was conducted online in August 2019. The results have a margin of error of +/-4.9 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.


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