Short Staffing and Physician Burnout - Beware the Boomer Retirement Cliff

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

The Shortest Path to Healthcare Profit is also the Shortest Path to Physician Burnout.

This cartoon/meme is the most powerful way to illustrate it.



  • The shortest path to higher profits in any industry is to cut staff.

  • Get the work done with fewer people = less salaries, more profit.

  • You don't even have to fire anyone, just don't replace the ones who leave.

  • This tactic will only work in the short term. Sooner or later, the people left holding the work bags will either QUIT or BURN OUT. Remember the current US Physician Burnout rate is 63%

NOTICE the last frame - the manager has the money bags.
That is his job, maximize profit. In this case, the profit margin for his department just went up by one worker's salary. That $200K jumped from the EXPENSE column right over to the PROFIT side of the ledger.

"Nice work Jim" his boss says. "You run a tight ship over there. Wish the rest of our managers had your skills."



There is ALWAYS a Massive Financial Disincentive for managers to staff appropriately.
They exploit your work ethic to pick up the extra load and make sure the work gets done. Once you show them you will still get everything done, it will never stop.


  • Truth: 45% of US physicians are over the age of 55.
  • Consequence: Between now and 2030 we will lose over 400,000 US physicians due to retirement. We call it the Boomer Doctor Retirement Cliff.
  • The early stages of this retirement wave are under way. Services are being decimated or closed at smaller hospitals across the country as the senior doctors retire.

In healthcare, management doesn't have to staff appropriately for a simple reason ... the doctors KEEP SHOWING UP and doing the work.

Our physician programming - "the patient comes first" and "never show weakness" - gets in the way of healthy boundaries. Big chunks of the US healthcare system would collapse if doctors in understaffed services stopped picking up the already abusive workloads created by this simple dynamic.

In our 7 coach collective experience, this systemic understaffing is the #2 major cause of burnout - right behind EMR/Documentation overload.

If your boss does this and you cannot get them to staff back up in a reasonable time frame (3 months max) ... GET OUT OF THERE. If you don't draw and maintain healthy boundaries - even as far as quitting altogether - they will never staff back to normal levels.  As long as you keep showing up and doing the job, they love the profit more than they honor your humanity. 



Has this happened to your service lately?
Have you ever quit a job because it was perpetually understaffed?



Tags: stop physician burnout