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About 1 in 4 Massachusetts doctors say they’ll leave medicine in two years

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Many physicians say they are suffering burnout, and administrative headaches are a leading factor.

Many doctors are struggling with burnout, and a significant number of physicians in Massachusetts are getting ready to get out of the business, the Massachusetts Medical Society says.

Roughly one out of four Massachusetts doctors says they plan to leave medicine within two years, according to a survey by the medical society. Half of the doctors surveyed said they are already reducing their efforts and plan to reduce their clinical hours by June 2023. Many are pointing to the hassles of administrative tasks as contributing factors to their burnout.

Ted Calianos, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, says burnout, already a problem before the arrival of COVID-19, has worsened during the pandemic.

“The scourge of physician burnout and compromised well-being among physicians and members of the health care team remains a threat to public health and patient care,” Calianos said in a statement. “The unprecedented stress placed upon health care workers and the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic expectedly exacerbated an already troubling situation.”

The medical society released results from a survey of its members Wednesday. More than 500 members responded to the survey.

After reviewing the data, the medical society says women, younger doctors, and physicians from underrepresented groups bear particular attention.

Even before the pandemic, healthcare leaders expressed growing concern over the number of doctors who said they were struggling with burnout. More doctors, and nurses, have said they have been mentally and emotionally drained, especially after three years of battling COVID-19.

Still, physicians in the survey didn’t point to the pandemic as much as the added administrative demands they are facing.

Doctors cited rising documentation requirements, including demands not tied to patient care, as the top work-related element adding to their stress. Doctors also pointed to a lack of support staff for non-medical duties, and the time they are spending in battles over prior authorization, as they wrestle with insurance over approval for treatments and medications.

Other factors include what they described as non-medical administrators exerting influence on medical decisions and the allocation of resources and the turnover of staff.

“It’s critical that we reduce administrative burdens and improve workplace support and culture so that physicians can focus on caring for patients,” Susannah Rowe, a lead author of the report, said in a statement. Rowe is an ophthalmologist, associate chief medical officer for wellness and professional vitality at Boston Medical Center, and assistant professor of ophthalmology at Boston University Chobanian and Avedisian School of Medicine.

“Importantly, to achieve meaningful change, we must intentionally address the particular workplace challenges faced by younger doctors, female physicians and physicians of color.”

Nationwide, more than half of all doctors said they are experiencing burnout, according to a Medscape survey released in late January. Nearly a quarter of the physicians surveyed (23%) said they were battling depression. In the Medscape survey, doctors also pointed to administrative tasks as the leading factor in burnout.

Still, many doctors aren’t getting assistance, the Medscape survey found.

Only 13% said they were getting assistance from a professional, while almost half (47%), said they weren’t getting help, but they would consider it. Roughly four out of 10 physicians surveyed (39%) said they weren’t getting help and wouldn’t think about it.

The rise in burnout doesn’t reflect a lack of resilience in physicians, Christine Sinsky, vice president of professional satisfaction, for the American Medical Association, said in a September panel.

“Burnout is not a mental illness,” Sinsky said. “It’s an occupational distress syndrome.”


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