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The physician burnout conundrum: where do we go from here?
  1. Kyle M Fargen
  1. Neurological Surgery and Radiology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kyle M Fargen, Neurological Surgery and Radiology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA; kylefargen{at}

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Over the last 10 years, physician burnout has become a hot button topic within medicine. To put the recent focus on burnout into perspective, a PubMed query using the keywords “physician burnout” reveals over 5000 individual articles, with over 2000 of these published in the last 3 years alone, encompassing nearly every field in medicine. Our specialty is no different: we recently surveyed neurointerventionalists both prior to1 and during the coronavirus pandemic,2 as well as interventional radiology staff3 regarding burnout prevalence and predictive factors. These studies found that roughly half of both physicians and non-physician staff met criteria for burnout based on self-reported inventory scores. These studies mimic the prevalence of burnout across all medical specialties; an often cited survey from 2015 demonstrated that roughly 50%–60% of doctors, regardless of practice, exhibited burnout.4 Consequently, professional burnout is now widely accepted among the medical community and has even recently been included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

These observations generate obvious questions. Is nearly half of our workforce truly composed of disaffected, exhausted, walking zombies? Are our patients at grave risk of medical errors or staff complacency from impaired physicians and nurses? The answer to these questions is almost certainly ‘No.’ But why then is there such a disconnect between the data and real life?

Burnout and how it is measured

The ICD-11 describes professional burnout as a triad of (1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; (2) feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and (3) sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. This definition is drawn from the original description of burnout and its components by Maslach and Jackson in 1981.5 These authors developed the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) and its derivations to score three major domains (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment). Each score was designed …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.