Mayo's Physician Burnout Survey 2017 data is in and the third shoe drops

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician-burnout-survey-trends-mayo-study-dike-drummond-Opt-150WMayo's physician burnout super-study finally released their third round of data from the 2017 survey.

The third shoe has dropped, but what does it all mean??

This was that infamous first study documenting burnout rates above 50% in US physicians in Mayo Clinic Proceedings using US physician burnout surveys performed in 2011 and 2014 compared to burnout in the general US population.

It is probably the single most important data point in the birth of the movement to track and address burnout in physicians. That movement has spread far and wide since 2011, culminating in the current wave of industry-wide confabs like the NAM Action Collaborative on Clinician Wellbeing and Resilience.

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Since 2014 we have been waiting patiently for that third round of surveys to report out. Show us the 2017 data please, please, please ... and here it is.

Physician Burnout Prevalence 2011 - 2017

"When assessed using the Maslach Burnout Inventory, 43.9% (2147 of 4893) of the physicians who completed the MBI reported at least one symptom of physician burnout in 2017"

Burnout Prevalence:

  • 2011 = 45.5%
  • 2014 = 54.4%
  • 2017 = 43.9%

The rate of burnout in the general population was also surveyed at all three time points using the same methodology and remains stable at 28%.

The Fatal Flaws in the Burnout Survey Industry

What does this mean?

That is the $64,000 question now isn't it. This one study shows a drop from the 2014 rates. What, if anything, does it mean??

If you watch Press Releases or industry reporter's story headlines, you will see them hailing this as a valid and representative measure of an official success story for the healthcare sector.

Here is an example copied and pasted from a Stanford press release: "Good news! Physician burnout decreased and satisfaction with work-life integration improved between 2014 and 2017."

physician-burnout-survey-repeat-mayo-prevalence-2017-Opt-200WWait just a rassin' frassin' minute now:

  • We both know enough statistics to understand one data point is not a trend
  • Three isn't either
  • And 4893 surveys returned is not a adequate measure of the state of the health of US physicians

Why this one paper is consistently seen as the official readout on the health of the US physician population is beyond me. This individual survey almost certainly means nothing has changed. There have been literally hundreds of physician burnout surveys since 2011. This is not a meta-analysis by any means. It is a third data point by a single research team. 

IMHO, these repeated surveys of burnout are classic rearranging of the deck chairs, fiddling while Rome burns, spitting into the wind.

Let me show you a couple reasons why:


mom-at-doctor-physician-burnout-today-worry-prevention-Opt-200W1) Come with me on a super quick thought experiment:

Imagine your mom has a doctor's appointment today. She is going by herself - or with a family member or someone else - who is not a physician like you.

  • What do you tell her about physician burnout?
  • Are you concerned about the health and wellbeing of your mother's physician?
  • Are you concerned about the efficiency of the systems of care and documentation your mom's doctor has to deal with?
  • If YES ... why?
  • If NO ... why not?
  • Is a burnout rate of 43.9% reassuring to you?
  • Do you quote that number as reassurance to your mom that everything is going to be OK? 


2) Physician Leaders must NEVER WAVER in their commitment to a healthier and more efficient workplace -- regardless of the results of the survey du jour

Here is an important leadership question I always ask whenever the topic of physician burnout prevalence comes up. I would love to see your answer to this question in the comments below.

Given the profound and comprehensive negative impact of burnout on the health, wellbeing and performance of physicians:

What is an acceptable rate of physician burnout in your doctors?

Even if you believe this study is a valid barometer for physician health, the burnout rate is 16% higher than background - a 57% increase over the general population. 

Physician burnout actually kills doctors and patients, right?

  • So what is an acceptable rate of physician burnout in your doctors?
  • Does this study give you permission to relax in your burnout prevention efforts at this point in time?
  • Is there ever a legitimate reason to relax in your efforts to support the health and wellbeing of the doctors? 




What is an acceptable physician burnout prevalence?
Are you relaxing your efforts to deliver on the Quadruple Aim?


Tags: Physician Burnout, Physician Leadership, stop physician burnout