Up-and-coming physicians even more burned out than their senior colleagues, survey finds

Recent survey data from The Physicians Foundation suggest residents and medical students are no strangers to the widespread burnout weighing down America’s physician workforce.

Among more than 2,100 respondents in various stages of their medical careers polled this June, medical students reported lower overall well-being than their senior colleagues.

Specifically, about 7 in 10 medical students reported often feelings of burnout compared to 6 in 10 residents and physicians, according to the survey.

About three-quarters of the students reported “inappropriate feelings of anger, tearfulness or anxiety” versus 68% of residents and 53% of physicians, and over two-thirds of students said they had withdrawn from family, friends and peers versus 52% of residents and 42% of physicians.

“Not only must we do better for today’s physicians, but we must also help create a better reality for the physicians of tomorrow,” the group wrote in its survey report. “… Though just starting their careers, a shocking proportion of students (45%) know a colleague or peer who has considered suicide, compared to residents (38%) and physicians (36%).”

Though the group’s previous surveys in 2022 and 2021 had a similar 6-in-10 reported rates of physician burnout, it noted that this is higher than the roughly 4-in-10 rate from before the pandemic in 2018.

Regardless of where they were in their careers, more than three-quarters of the respondents said stigma around seeking mental health support is prevalent among providers, according to the survey.

Some of that reflects structural barriers that could impact their professional careers—about 4 in 10 physicians and 5 in 10 residents and students said they or someone they knew felt hesitant to seek mental health support due to questions asked in medical licensure, credentialing or insurance applications. Meanwhile, the percentage of physicians who said their workplace culture prioritizes well-being dropped from last year’s 36% to 31%.

On the other hand, the Physicians Foundation’s results suggest a “generational shift” on physician mental health may be underway. More than half of medical students noted that physician well-being is a topic of conversation in their classes, and 47% of students, versus 29% of residents and 19% of physicians, have gone ahead and sought medical attention for their mental health problems.

The elevated rates of burnout described in the new poll are in line with other workforce surveys conducted over the course of the pandemic. They also come amid calls from professional organizations, clinical leaders and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., to destigmatize mental health and strike licensure questionnaires that effectively punish practitioners for seeking care.

Alongside the mental health insights, the Physicians Foundation’s poll also outlined current and future physicians' reactions to the shifting landscape of healthcare practices.

Several respondents said they had been, or anticipate being, part of a merger or acquisition. Most said they believed that consolidation is impacting patient access to affordable, quality care, while very few (11% to 16%) said private equity funding—which is sometimes the driving force between purchases and sales—is a positive for healthcare’s future.