Relationships and time with patients may be key to physician satisfaction, survey finds

Despite all the headlines about physician burnout and dissatisfaction, a new survey found that doctors are generally happy in both their lives and their careers.

In a survey of more than 5,000 physicians by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and CompHealth, a healthcare staffing company, 71% of physicians currently in practice reported being happy. A total of 59% said they are satisfied with their lives in general.

“Practicing medicine is a profoundly rewarding profession,” said Clif Knight, M.D., senior vice president of education for AAFP. “As with any job, it’s important to find meaningful work-life integration. The AAFP has developed resources to help improve physician well-being while we are simultaneously fighting to reduce administrative burden, one of the key factors physicians cite as a barrier to happiness at work.”

The survey included AAFP members as well as physicians from many other specialties throughout the country.

The survey results include the following:

  • Relationships matter. Physicians with a lot of friends at work reported high life satisfaction, while among physicians who said they did not have friends at work only 39% reported they had high life satisfaction.
  • Lack of control and excess paperwork make physicians unhappy. Work issues such as lack of control (72%), clerical burdens (71%) and emotional exhaustion (69%) detracted from physicians’ happiness. Specific tasks such as administrative duties (28%) also limited workplace happiness.

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  • Lack of time with patients may be another factor contributing to physician unhappiness. Fifty-five percent of physicians reported that time available for individual patients has declined since they started practice. However, 44% reported that the quality of patient care had improved since they began practicing.

A recent study found that after climbing for the last six years, there was the first drop—however modest—in the number of physicians who say they suffer from burnout.

Some 43.9% of doctors in the U.S. exhibited at least one symptom of burnout in a 2017 survey, compared with 54.4% in 2014 and 45.5% in 2011, according to a triennial study conducted by researchers from the American Medical Association, the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University School of Medicine.

“Physician burnout is a real issue that has dominated the industry for a lot of years. With this survey we wanted to take a deeper look at what drives workplace happiness, and why," said Lisa Grabl, president of CompHealth. "We found that many physicians still take great joy in the practice of medicine and discovered areas where administrators and physicians alike can work together to further increase physician happiness."