11 Causes of Physician Burnout

11 Causes of Physician Burnout


Physician burnout is an increasing threat to the healthcare industry, and it’s one that spans virtually all specialties and healthcare settings. Its ever-increasing pervasiveness makes it a hot topic in medicine today.

According to The Harvard Gazette, burnout is costing the US healthcare system $4.6 billion per year. To begin to address the issues of physician burnout we first need to be aware of the contributing factors. Below are 11 major causes of physician burnout.

Poor Work-Life Balance

Many providers often work grueling hours, and eventually it takes its toll. Nights and weekends on the clock greatly inhibit a physician’s work-life balance. It’s not unusual for doctors to work 60 hours a week or more on a weekly basis.

Suffering in Secrecy

Doctors that suffer from issues of stress, depression, or anxiety are often loathe to seek help for it. Reasons for not addressing or acknowledging these concerns  include the potential requirement to report health issues to medical boards, a sense of pride, and not having enough time to address it. This can create a vicious cycle because these burnout factors are usually interrelated and they all contribute to these concerns and only deepen the issues.

Inadequate Compensation

It may seem surprising to see compensation being a contributing factor, especially with the public perception of physicians as being highly paid. However, considering combined years of schooling and time, many thousands of dollars in education expenses, and a high number of hours per week worked, suddenly the compensation picture isn’t as rewarding in the eyes of many providers.

Too Many Non-clinical Tasks

Physicians regularly report spending too much time and energy on non-clinical issues, and prevents them from working at their highest level which is focusing on addressing clinical needs.

Loss of Patient Respect

In today’s age, patients often enter the office with a self-diagnosis or ideas of what is causing their symptoms due to easy to obtain online resources. This barrage of information has empowered the patient but has also led to harm in the patient-provider relationship. While this wealth of information has been a boost to both providers and patients alike, many providers feel this has undercut the connection between doctors and their patients.

Lack of Control

Dealing with third-party payer bureaucracy and hoops has made it increasingly difficult  for a physician to offer the prescribed care and treatment plan as intended  With prior authorizations and denials piling up and adding to administrative headaches, this lack of autonomy is a major contributor of burnout.


The constant need to monitor and stay on top of ever-changing regulations is a challenge that is not only not going away anytime soon. While regulations have always been a part of the healthcare model, doctors report an increasing burden stemming from both the volume and speed of changes occurring in healthcare.

Loss of Independence

The proportion of independent physicians on the decline is a trend that is not slowing down anytime soon. Additionally, the perception of increased control by administrators, enterprises, and payers has pervaded amongst providers. This has created negative perception for physicians in their ability to be autonomous.

Unhealthy Lifestyles

A combination of too many hours and stress often manifests itself in other unhealthy ways. Poor eating habits, reduced exercise, and increased alcohol use contribute to the cycle of provider burnout.

Interrupted Leisure Time

Even outside of long work hours, physicians often have to deal with other work-related issues. Unexpected calls, schedule changes, or need to finish other work tasks prevent a provider from taking advantage of the ability to recharge and relax off hours.

Being the Sounding Board

Physicians often have to be on the receiving end of patient complaints that are unrelated to the provider’s care. For example, patient gripes about authorization delays, unreturned office calls, or a surly receptionist are regularly directed towards the physician despite many of these issues being outside of provider control and scope.

Bottom Line

Physician burnout is now being discussed more seriously as a public health crisis. By recognizing some of the common contributors that lead to burnout, we can take the first step towards addressing the issues to lead to more favorable outcomes for physicians and ultimately patients and the healthcare system as a whole.

Authored by Brett Shay, Managing Partner at Informed Concepts Consulting. Published on October 30, 2019.