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February 24, 2017

For burned-out physicians, medicine no longer feels like a 'calling,' study finds

Daily Briefing

Doctors who experience burnout are less likely to say they view their work as a "calling," according to a new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The study authors said previous research shows that burnout correlates with lower patient satisfaction, higher rates of medical errors, and higher costs.

"If physicians only view their occupation as a job, that has implications over time in terms of their commitment to their patients," said senior author Audiey Kao, VP of ethics at the American Medical Association (AMA). "That's why we were interested in looking at work identity or physician's sense of calling and what may undermine or support that notion."

Three surprising truths about physician burnout

Study details

For the study, researchers surveyed 2,000 doctors of all specialties who were identified from an AMA database. The survey was conducted by mail between October 2014 and May 2015.

Respondents were asked to rate their level of burnout on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 and 2 indicating few to no symptoms of burnout. They were also asked to answer a series of true/false questions about how they viewed their jobs.

The true/false questions were designed to help measure whether doctors viewed their profession as a "calling." For instance, doctors were asked if they had a strong desire to commit their lives to their work, if they would continue to work without pay if they didn't need money, and if their work was rewarding.

The survey found that 93 percent of respondents said their work was rewarding, but only about 44 percent said they would continue their work without pay. In addition, 93 percent of respondents who reported no symptoms of burnout said they would choose their profession again—while about one third of burned-out doctors said the same.

Doctors with the highest degree of burnout were also much less likely to call their work "the most important things in their lives and [agree] that it was making the world a better place," Reuters reports. Such doctors were also less likely to enjoy talking about their work with other people, according to the study.


Kao said, "Having physicians who view their work as a sense of calling is not only important for physicians but as important if not more important for the patients they care for."

Kao added that what doctors want out of their work is similar to other professions. "Everyone, including doctors, wants to be doing work that contributes to some greater good beyond themselves—work that feels authentic to who they are without compromising their integrity" (Bean, Becker's Hospital Review, 2/21; Kennedy, Reuters, 2/20).

Restore the calling: Learn how to combat physician burnout

So how exactly does physician burnout manifest, and what are the consequences for your organization?

Save your space for our April 18 webconference to learn more about what burnout is, what's causing it, and strategies to combat burnout and restore joy in the practice of medicine.

Register now

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