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Report: Problem of Clinician Burnout Must be Addressed

By Stacey Kusterbeck, Author, Relias Media

Between one-third and one-half of U.S. clinicians are experiencing burnout, according to a new report from the National Academy of Medicine.

“We’ve identified that burnout has many different factors driving it. Therefore, there need to be many approaches,” says Christine Cassel, MD, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.

When physicians see complex patients, with only 10 or 15 minutes allocated for the visit, only the most urgent needs are addressed. “You know it’s the tip of the iceberg. But you don’t have the capacity or the team or the setup to do what you know the patient needs,” Cassel laments.

The report identifies these goals: To create positive work environments and learning environments, reduce administrative burden, enable technology solutions, provide support to clinicians and learners, and invest in research. Personal stress management tactics are not sufficient, the report’s authors emphasized. “It is critical to address burnout not as an individual issue, but rather as a systems issue,” says Wanda Lipscomb, PhD, another report contributor.

Workplace culture, healthcare policies and regulations, and societal expectations are all factors. “Individuals who choose medicine do so because they expect their work to be meaningful,” Lipscomb says. Finding a way to allow clinicians to do more direct care of patients vs. being burdened with administrative tasks is one piece of the puzzle.

“To take action against burnout requires a really bold vision,” Lipscomb says. The first step is to acknowledge that burnout is a problem. If organizations have not done so already, says Lipscomb, the report “puts it on the forefront.”

To learn how hospital-based ethicists can prevent and address clinician burnout, be sure to read the upcoming December issue of Medical Ethics Advisor. For even more on the issue of burnout, listen to Episode 12 and Episode 15 of the “Rounds with Relias” podcast series.