Compassion vs. Commodity: How Physician Burnout Lowers Compassion

Compassion vs. Commodity: How Physician Burnout Lowers Compassion

Twenty years ago, there were very few articles in the medical literature about physician burnout. Today, hardly a week goes by without reference to this problem reaching epidemic proportions among American physicians.

Occupational burnout is typically defined as: loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. Burnout is certainly not unique to the field of medicine; many high stress occupations suffer the same malady. However, healthcare is unique in that it is a business of compassion.

The latest statistics show that in 2015, 46% of physicians and 44% of pediatricians in the U.S. claim burnout. Therefore, it is easy to see that there must be a resulting negative impact on the compassion that can be shown to the healthcare “consumer” (formerly referred to as the patient).

As an example, a recent article published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ online journal shows that 30% of younger pediatricians (less than 10 years out of residency) already suffer from occupational burnout. This suggests that pediatricians with more than 10 years of experience have a much higher incidence of burnout, given that the overall average for all pediatricians is 44%.  This particular study looked at 4 factors: work-life balance, burnout at work, career satisfaction, and life satisfaction.

The authors suggest that the increased complexity in practicing medicine, and the use of electronic health records, are common contributors to burnout. This article is one of many which suggest the same hypothesis.

Medicine, seemingly, is becoming more of a commodity and less of an art. The art of medicine is something that can’t be taught in medical school. A large part of this art is compassion, and compassion always suffers as a result of commoditization.

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