Happy doctor after implementing solutions for physician burnout

We Need Solutions for Physician AND Nursing Burnout, Right Now

Finding solutions for physician burnout has never been more critical. In 2016, the RN Work Project found that 17% of newly registered nurses leave their first nursing job within the first year and 33% leave within 2 years, [1] while burnout rates for physicians were on average 69%. [2]

In just 4 years, those numbers have jumped to up to 30% of newly registered nurses leaving their first nursing job within the first year, up to 57% by their second year, [3] and 79% of physicians reporting feeling burned out. [4] General hospital staff turnover has also risen in those 4 years from 16.2% to 19.5%. [5]


“Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”- Confucius

This has been a timeless quote spoken to young individuals who are in pursuit of their career path. For some, their passion of wanting to make a real difference in people’s lives made their decision easier than most to pursue a career in healthcare. Why is it then that more and more healthcare professionals are leaving the field? 


Researchers concluded in a recent study, that the COVID pandemic, feeling burned out or overworked, and finding a better opportunity and/or wanting better pay were among the top reasons healthcare workers have quit their jobs and abandoned this career path altogether. [6]


Without significant multi-faceted changes, these numbers will only continue to rise, and we will see an even worse loss of manpower than prior to the pandemic. Having a healthcare shortage does not only affect the individual healthcare workers but has a negative ripple effect on work safety and patient care. The true cost of turnover and burnout has many factors such as staffing costs (overtime, travel nurses, etc), continuity of care, onboarding and training, and accident rates, etc. Experts estimate the average cost of turnover, across all occupations in healthcare is around $60,000, and some reports estimate replacing a physician is at least $200,000 but can reach as high as $1 million per existing doctor. [7]


How do we find solutions for physician burnout?

Healthcare leaders and the healthcare workers themselves will need to work together to focus on the “long game” and not just the “here and now.” Below are a number of proven initiatives that have been able to make a positive impact in healthcare: 

  1.  Promote system-level change:  System-level change begins from the top with the healthcare leader’s dedication to find and invest in preventive solutions. In response to the critical concern of the well-being of the healthcare workforce, leading healthcare organizations (HCO’s) have appointed a Chief Wellness Officer (CWO) whose goal is to work to make the healthcare staff’s well-being central to organizational culture and strategy. [8] Having a dedicated person like a CWO is vital in identifying and formulating initiatives to help promote individual and system-wide wellness.   
  2. Create a healthy environment: There are a number of ways to create a healthier work environment such as forming a dedicated relaxation room, providing healthy snacks & drinks, sponsoring workout classes, and promoting an open-door policy to foster trust and communication. 
  3. Reduce the burnout triggers: It is important to first learn what the top triggers of burnout are and find preventative solutions for physician burnout in each position. Each position and specialty in healthcare can have different burnout triggers and there is no “one size fits all” solution. Utilizing the CWO to gather these answers by surveys, meetings with each department, and analyzing the data are the first steps in the prevention and treatment of the problem. Some of the common reasons for burnout include: long work hours with short, complicated patient visits, electronic health record stress, and poor work-home balance. [9] One proven initiative that healthcare systems have begun to implement to alleviate these three main burnout factors is outsourcing a medical scribe company to help support physicians and nurses during the clinical day. The medical scribe will prep the chart, check on lab and test results, transcribe the conversation between the patient and physician, and help with any other non-clinical support needed. By removing the administrative burden, nurses and physicians can focus on more face-to-face time with each patient, allow for higher-level thinking, improve work-life balance, and increase morale. [10]
  4. Acknowledge their hard work: Healthcare workers already work in a high-stress field, and if they feel underappreciated, it can lead to workplace exhaustion and frustration. Healthcare leaders need to promote appreciation by actively looking for things that are going well in a department/organization. Letting your team know that they are doing a good job by posting it around the organization and newsletter, sponsoring mini massages, and handing out little goodie bags are just a few ways to “thank” your team members. 


With the new demands on work and life during the COVID pandemic, it has been easier for everyone to lose sight of the underlying problems that have serious consequences if left untreated. In order to proceed toward a zero-harm healthcare environment, we must all work together to implement initiatives that combat and prevent burnout.


  1. http://rnworkproject.org/rnworkproject.org/index.html
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6367114/
  3. https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/nursing/new-nurse-turnover-common-nurse-leader-indiana-university-health-working-change
  4. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/963343
  5. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1251378/staff-turnover-rate-of-hospitals-in-the-united-states/
  6. https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2021/10/08/health-care-workers-survey
  7. https://www.dailypay.com/blog/employee-turnover-rates-in-the-healthcare-industry/
  8. https://catalyst.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/CAT.20.0612
  9. https://www.ahrq.gov/prevention/clinician/ahrq-works/burnout/index.html
  10. https://medinform.jmir.org/2019/3/e14797/