Recognizing and Managing Physician Burnout

When protecting the patients at your hospital or practice, it’s important to look beyond the natural safety protocols and environmental precautions. You also have to consider the health of your physicians. One of the most common safety issues organizations have with their physicians can easily go unnoticed, physician burnout. Physician burnout has been a silent plague for healthcare providers and has caused overwhelming depression and exhaustion in the physician workforce.

When physicians feel the effects of a burnout, they not only put themselves at risk, but also the healthcare organization as a whole. Can you identify physician burnout? Let’s dive a bit deeper into what exactly causes someone to feel burned out, and what it looks like.

What causes Physician Burnout?

1. The leading reported cause of burnout is the job itself. The stress of practicing medicine is brought on by long working hours, interaction with the sick and their family members, unfair compensation, and the modernization of clinical tasks that decrease the amount of face time that doctors spend with their patients.
2. Another cause is attributed to the management of a work-life balance. Not all physician hours are created equal. The mental, physical and emotional toll that various work shifts a doctor takes on are drastic and require time and rest to recharge from. Doctors with families and active social lives can’t always push the pause button on days off and return to work refreshed. Most spend their time out of work shuffling children to school or picking up groceries in between soccer practices. There are also many other factors in life that could cause stress on a physician such as a sick family member, financial distress, or marital conflicts with their spouse.
3. Some doctors have reported feeling burned out due to the leadership of their hospitals or clinics. Their immediate supervisors provide an unhealthy work environment or are absent from their day to day duties, which adds to the stress of the subordinate doctors practicing medicine.

How do you know if you or a colleague is suffering from Physician Burnout?

There are many symptoms and most can be recognized just by having a quick chat. Ask trigger questions that require engaging and open-ended answers. Monitor for excessive negative talk and a condescending tone. There are various symptoms to look out for that can be easily identified. Let’s take a look at the most common three.

1. Exhaustion – Energy levels, both physical and emotional, are extremely low and on a constant downhill slope. This is one of the initial symptoms, and the most common. In this stage doctors usually find themselves wondering how much longer they can go on.
2. Depersonalization – Physicians in this stage are feeling desensitized and are losing compassion for their patients. This evidence is by overuse of sarcasm, cynicism, and lack of emotional energy.
3. Devalue of Self – This is the stage where doctors wonder “what’s the point?”, or “why am I doing this?” and tend to undervalue their self-worth as a physician.
Do you or someone you know recognize these symptoms all too clearly? There are several things that can be done to prevent feeling burned out.

The first step is to know the signs and take action. There is no manual or definitive method for everyone to practice. Educate yourself on what to look for and find a best practice that you feel that you would benefit from. There are several activities that are proven to help such as yoga, running, or practicing self-awareness techniques to de-stress.

The second step is to talk it out. Some doctors have reported feeling shameful for the negative thoughts and feelings associated with Physician Burnout. There is nothing shameful about expressing your emotions and connecting with someone who isn’t directly attached to the situation. This could be in the form of a therapist, a friend, or even a neighbor. Just talk it out.

As opportunities arise to discuss how you or a colleague are feeling, take advantage of them. Discussing how to get over the Physicians Burnout hump will enhance you or your co-workers quality of life inside of the work environment as well as outside of it.


At COORS, our team can work with you to identify ways to eliminate burnout. From augmenting your leadership team to designing better processes that reduce the stress of your team, allow COORS to develop a tailored, cost-effective strategy to create a winning healthcare culture. To learn how COORS can help you, contact our organizational experts.