Physician Burnout: A dilemma that needs to be addressed 

The process of becoming a doctor can last at least ten years. The stress that comes with this process can often lead to burnout and is can issue that should be addressed. Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus

The process of becoming a doctor is long and arduous, beginning in undergrad and continuing for at least ten years. Due to the systems in place in the United States, these obstacles continue because of the mental toll of the job itself. Physician burnout is not a new phenomenon, but its prevalence is still shocking.  

Burnout and mental stress have always run rampant in the medical field, but since the appearance of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the winter of 2021, these numbers have increased dramatically. In 2021, nearly 63% of physicians had at least one manifestation of burnout and instances of depression increased from 49% to 52% between 2020 and 2021. One study has found that physicians are twice as likely as their counterparts in other professions to burn out and experience work-life dissatisfaction. This has ramifications on other facets of the medical field. Studies have linked burnout to increased medical errors and negative patient outcomes. Through this, it is evident that physician burnout has impacts not only on those who work in the field, but also on their patients.  

Though COVID-19 has brought the plight of medical workers to the forefront of discussion, wider changes have yet to come. Negative stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health is still a dominant force in the health care sphere, as medical students often worry that receiving mental health treatment will prevent them from continuing in their careers. Doctors are still people and they are just as likely as anybody else to need mental health care. This care should be provided without the threat of negative repercussions to their futures. Moreover, I think medical schools should take more proactive steps to combat burnout and resulting mental health complications. For example, they could provide better access to mental health resources and encourage students to reach out for help after periods of stress. Creating an environment where doctors and medical students are encouraged to seek help and find positive outlets would likely improve mental health outcomes.  

A more contentious idea would be to do away with the 24-hour shift due to the correlation between sleep deprivation and mental stress. Of note is the fact that in a survey published by BMC Medicine in 2010, researchers found that 80% of patients stated they did not want to be treated by a doctor who hadn’t gotten sleep in 24 hours. In addition, sleep-deprived physicians are much more likely to cause injury to themselves. Ethically, I feel it is wrong to impose 24-hour shifts that deprive physicians of sleep and patients of well-rested doctors.  

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