Five Causes of Physician Burnout

By May 14, 2019February 19th, 2021Healthcare Transformation, Latest News, Physician, Wellbeing
Top 4 Causes of Physician Burnout

Eliminating burnout is a process that begins with understanding the causes of physician burnout. While every physician is a unique individual, studies have identified a collection of overarching reasons that seem to appear in most burnout situations. The first step in curing physician burnout is to undergo a self-assessment across these primary factors and address any issues that are discovered.


The Five Top Causes of Physician Burnout


1. Excessive Workload

A poor work-life balance can create numerous problems for physicians, both personally and professionally. Yet, many still consider this to be a major challenge in the profession.

  • According to the 2018 Medscape National Physician & Depression Report, more than one-third (39%) attributed their burnout to working excessive hours. The reason this is so prevalent among physicians in clinical settings varies, but patient overload seems to be a significant factor. (Peckham)
  • 40% of doctors reported being in charge of more patients than they could safely accommodate each month. Research shows that 15 patients per shift is the maximum number of patients a physician can safely see if their work is solely clinical. (Michtalik)

When addressing workload think about how you assign patients to your physicians. Try to be objective and realistic in this assessment. If you need to restructure your workload, speak with your colleagues about changing the way clinical patient work is distributed. Having a reliable support system can make a big difference in preserving your peace of mind and not adding to the cause of physician burnout.


2. High Risk Specialties

Surprisingly, a physician’s specialty can directly affect their chances of burnout.   The highest percentages of burnout reportedly occur among specialties with higher risks and lower predictability factors.  This would include specialties that have a large number of incoming patients that are experiencing medical emergencies.

  • Critical care, emergency medicine, and neurology are all within this category.
  • Specialties with higher predictability and arguably less risk reported the lowest rates of burnout. Physicians in plastic surgery, dermatology, and orthopedics all reported less than 35% of burnout while the highest percentages in the former group were over 44%. (Berg)

Understanding the unique stresses of a specialty can help shed more light on specific burnout risks. If you are working within a specialty associated with higher burnout rates, try enforcing breaks on a m

Physician Burnout Assessment Tool

ore regular basis. Consistently being in a highly stressful clinical environment for long periods of time can wreak havoc if you’re not careful.


3. Hassle Factors

Working with insurance companies to secure payment for patient services creates a bureaucratic nightmare for many physicians. Administrative work is an inevitable part of the business, but when it becomes tedious and unproductive, it can affect the level of care that physicians can provide.

  • According to the 2018 Medscape National Physician & Depression Report, over half (56%) of physicians surveyed chose an excess of bureaucratic tasks as a contributing factor to their burnout, and 16% reported government regulations. This can be a challenging factor for you to attack alone. (Peckham)

Help create organized work patterns and automate as much of the administrative work as you can. Train physicians to rely on administrative workers as much as reasonably possible. By doing this, it will help to eliminate doctors facing burnout.


4. Inadequate Technology

As technology continues to advance and make life easier, it may be surprising that it is also a frustration for many physicians.

  • 24% of physicians report increasing computerization as a major contribution to burnout. Poorly designed technology can create additional work that doesn’t add value to the patient experience. This includes computer systems that don’t blend well with physician processes and are not user-friendly. (Peckham)

To combat this, make a concerted effort to help your healthcare organization purchase technology that improves efficiency and is easy to use. Easy charting, focused content, cloud hosting, and electronic scheduling are all characteristics you should consider when searching for a technology solution to alleviate physicians’ burdens. (Wirbickas)


5. Lack of Leadership

A Mayo Clinic study (Shanafelt et al., 2015, p. 432) examined physician satisfaction and burnout as a function of the quality of physician leadership. Leadership qualities of physician supervisors appear to impact the well-being and satisfaction of individual physicians working in health care organizations. These findings have important implications for the selection and training of physician leaders and provide new insights into cultural factors that affect physician well-being.

Consider investing in physician leadership development. Traditionally, physicians are not trained in leadership especially for leading and collaborating with others. Physician leaders need assistance navigating the complex healthcare management system and balancing between being a clinician and collaborating with administrators for the greater good without being considered as having gone to the dark side.


Don’t let burnout sneak up on you. Take the time now to understand the burnout causes of physicians, risk factors, and solutions to get ahead of the problem. If you need help getting started, we’ve got your back. At CTI we are committed to supporting the physician leader with tools for success and wellbeing.


To learn more about how we can help and to access our brochure of offerings, visit us at or give us a call at (813) 333-1401.




  1. Berg, Sara. Physician Burnout: It’s Not You, It’s Your Medical Specialty. Accessed from
  2. Peckham, Carol. Medscape National Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2018. January 17, 2018. Accessed from
  3. Michtalik, Henry J., Yeh, Hsin-Chieh, & Pronovost, Peter J. Impact of Attending Physician Workload on Patient Care: A Survey of Hospitalists. March 11, 2013. Accessed from
  4. Wirbickas, Greg. Tackling a Root Cause to Physician Burnout. Accessed from