Debt and financial stress contribute to physician burnout

Burnout and depression in physicians often have their roots in medical school when students begin to take on debt and financial stress.

“A big contributor is the financial burden that many medical students take on, which gets compounded as they move into poorly paid residencies,” wrote Giffin Daughtridge, a fourth-year medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Neha Vapiwala, M.D., a specialist in radiation oncology and an advisory dean at the medical school, in STAT.

Both say they have seen burnout and depression take root in medical school. To measure how students might be affected by financial pressures, they surveyed medical students at six top-ranked U.S. schools. The survey of 812 students found medical students feel more financial pressure as they advance through medical training, they said.

Healthcare can help address the burnout problem by coming up with solutions to financial stress, such as improving financial counseling programs for premed students, limiting tuition increases and targeted philanthropy efforts, they said.

Another doctor, Rich Joseph, M.D., an internal medicine resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in an article for NEJM Catalyst that performance training and a public health approach are needed to prevent burnout. Instead of trying to address burnout by treating individuals, “a public health approach is needed to prevent burnout during medical training through inspired messaging, institutional reform and ultimately, cultural evolution,” he wrote.

While eliminating stress and breaking the burnout cycle is no easy task, an article in Physicians Practice says small changes in the way physicians live and work can help. Among its suggestions: Look at the bigger picture and delegate tasks whenever possible.