Physician burnout is baked in the system, study suggests

Exposure to the medical system likely contributes to burnout among residents and fellows rather than traits associated with a particular generation, a study published in the journal Academic Psychiatry shows.

Researchers examined 388 millennial (29 years on average) and 200 Generation X residents and fellows (34 years on average) at a single U.S. institution during the 2013-2014 academic year. Researchers measured empathy and burnout using two psychiatric instruments.

They found that empathy decreases over the course of physician training and that burnout was linked to level of training, that is, post-graduate year.

There were no statistically significant differences between millennial and Generation X physicians-in-training in terms of average scores for empathy or burnout.

"As millennial physicians are increasingly entering the workforce, people seem to be wondering what millennial doctors will be like, and I've heard older physicians opine that physician burnout is a bigger problem now due to generation vulnerability," said lead author Brandon Hamm, MD, an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

"Our study provides a little more transparency that it's medical system exposure — not generational traits — that is more likely to contribute to the burnout seen in today's doctors," he said.


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