The COVID-19 emergency is over, but not without leaving 1 in 2 physicians reporting burnout.

Doctors are crucial in maintaining and improving the health and wellbeing of innumerable people. They take on enormous duties and put forth endless effort to provide high-quality care since they are the respected keepers of life. Physician burnout, however, is an issue that many people still battle behind their white coats.

And it rose to an all-time high in 2021 as a result of an increase in COVID-19 mortality rates from the year before, the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variations, and a huge number of Americans who choose not to receive the vaccine or a booster shot. But according to an exclusive poll from the AMA, it seems that doctors nationwide saw some alleviation in their stress levels when COVID-19 moved into a less fatal, endemic stage last year.

More than 70 health systems that took part in the AMA’s Organizational BiopsyTM (PDF) received more than 13,000 answers from medical professionals and nonmedical providers across 30 states. The 2022 trends in six key performance indicators—job satisfaction, job stress, burnout, intent to leave an organization, feeling valued by an organization, and total hours per week spent on work-related activities (known as “time spend”)—are reflected in the AMA benchmarking report, which provides exclusive data to the AMA that is not published elsewhere.

The collected information’s goal is to act as a benchmark for other healthcare organizations and to give a nationwide overview of organizational health. The health systems that decided to take part may have a constraint on the outcomes.

The total burnout rate for 2022 was 53%. Physician burnout has decreased since its peak in late 2021, according to statistics from the AMA’s benchmarking study, but the scope of the issue remains a sobering reality that requires attention, especially among those who are most at risk.

“We can’t say with certainty the exact cause of the decline, but it’s important to note that the rise in burnout during 2021 happened during significant COVID-19 surges—Delta and Omicron, respectively. Those surges put enormous pressure on an already stressed health system,” said Nancy Nankivil, the Director of Practice Transformation at the AMA. “Apart from a decrease in COVID-19 as vaccines were introduced, we also saw more organizations paying attention to—and investing in—the well-being of their workforce.”

Triennial surveys have been undertaken by the AMA, Mayo Clinic, and Stanford Medicine since 2011 to track the epidemic of physician burnout at various points in time, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects. Despite the fact that the majority of the questions are the same, these results cannot be directly compared because of the varied respondents. They nonetheless brought attention to the persistent burnout crisis.

“Continued leadership investment in workforce well-being—including efforts to lessen administrative burden on physicians—will be necessary to further reduce burnout,” Nankivil also stated.

Here are some more critical performance indicators of medical professionals’ well-being that the AMA benchmarking study noted.

Satisfaction in the job has dropped

Physicians’ work satisfaction decreased to 68% between 2021 and 2022. Although still quite high, it continued to be a little less satisfied with their jobs than nurse practitioners and physician assistants. The AMA benchmarking research included insights into differences by gender, medical specialization, and years of experience in practice. These numbers will appear in forthcoming AMA news stories.

“Organizations can work with the AMA to measure burnout and organizational drivers of burnout through the AMA’s Organizational Biopsy,” Nankivil said, noting this data “will provide important information about system-level drivers and where an organization can apply intervention efforts. We can’t improve what we don’t measure.”

For instance, the AMA Joy in MedicineTM Health System Recognition Program offers institutions a framework based on research and a strategic road map to build both short-term and long-term plans to enhance physician well-being.

Job stress has increased

Doctors continued to endure occupational stress in 2022. Despite the pandemic’s effects starting to fade, 56% of doctors said their jobs were extremely stressful.

According to respondents, the main source of stress is the requirement for improved staffing ratios and greater assistance from support personnel, such as medical assistants, to lessen physician workload. However, doctors spend 58.6 hours a week on work-related activities such administrative work, teaching, research, and direct and indirect patient care. Compared to other medical professionals questioned, this is greater. Additionally, a recent research co-authored by the AMA claims that it can lead to negative personal health consequences.

These data from the AMA’s benchmarking report provides “a foundation by which health systems can move the needle on workforce well-being,” the AMA’s Nankivil said. The information “specifically provides us with high-opportunity areas for investment and change,” allowing the AMA to tailor its resources to support health care leaders as they move to better tackle the systemic drivers of burnout.

“It will be important to continue to monitor these data so that health system and well-being leaders can adjust their strategies accordingly and identify sustainable improvements,” she added.

Learn how the AMA Health System Program partners with health care leaders to tailor solutions that maximize support for physicians and care teams.

Many intend on leaving their roles

The majority of doctors surveyed said they planned to quit their present employer in the next two years. 40% of doctors who were asked about their chance of leaving said that it was moderate, probable, or certainly.

In addition, 46% of doctors said they felt very or somewhat appreciated by their company. According to other health professionals questioned, 18% felt that their employer did not appreciate them at all. An significant finding for many health systems concerned about retention is that when sentiments of value decline, intentions to leave also rise.

This collection of data represents “the voice of physicians and will help organizational leaders better target system drivers to improve well-being,” Nankivil said, noting that it “provides a North Star for where organizations can focus their efforts in the year ahead.”

The AMA study will provide standards in the upcoming year in categories including leadership practices, paid time off, and barriers to mental health treatment.

“Many health care organizations and leaders are investing in this issue. Each year, we see more organizations strategically invest in this work by way of hiring chief wellness officers, leveraging EHR data, and making rapid changes to address workflow and workload issues,” Nankivil said. “These issues won’t be resolved overnight but we are honored to work with hundreds of health systems each year who are taking critical steps toward improved organizational well-being.”

Consider attending the 2023 American Conference on Physician Health to be informed about topics affecting organizational wellbeing and professional happiness.