Health Care System Takes Heavy Toll on Nation’s Clinicians, Study Finds

Published November 26, 2019

concludes a study by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The 312-page report, “Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being,” was issued on October 23 and is the result of an 18-month investigation by a committee of physicians, nurses, health executives, and leaders in bioethics, neurology, and pharmacy.

The committee determined between 35 percent and 54 percent of doctors and nurses in the United States experience burnout, defined as emotional exhaustion, cynicism, loss of enthusiasm for their work, and increasing detachment from their patients and their patients’ illnesses. Among medical students and residents, the burnout rate is as high as 60 percent.

Widespread clinical burnout, the study states, results in increased risks to patients, malpractice claims, worker absenteeism and turnover, and the loss of billions of dollars in the health care system each year.

Disturbing Suicide Rate

Perhaps the study’s most troubling finding is the suicide rate among doctors is twice that of the general population and one of the highest among all professions.

A crushing workload brought on by having to comply with ever-increasing paperwork burdens tied to a maze of government regulations and industry responses to them is damaging the morale of health care professionals.

Many of those regulations, the study notes, are about managing costs instead of providing care to patients. Physicians, for example, must deal with the vexing problem of hospital reimbursements, forcing them to go through a long checklist with patients during physical exams.

Recommends Changes

The report makes several recommendations to reduce burnout.

Steps include installing executive-level chief wellness officers at health care organizations, training students at medical and nursing schools to deal with burnout, identifying and eliminating overlapping federal and state regulations, and enabling doctors to seek help from medical licensure agencies without it being used against them in lawsuits and other ways.


Bonner R. Cohen,  Ph.D., ([email protected]is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.