Physician burnout drops below 50% for first time since 2020, AMA poll finds

The portion of physicians surveyed by the American Medical Association (AMA) who report at least one symptom of burnout has dropped below 50%, a first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group’s annual survey shows consistent declines in doctor burnout in the wake of an all-time high of 62.8% in 2021. Reported burnout dropped to 53% in 2022 and, as of the most recent 2023 survey, now sits at 48.2%.

The AMA, which often cites burnout as a key threat to the well-being of the profession and the long-term supply of medical professionals, celebrated the results but said there’s still work to be done.

“This is moving in the right direction,” Nancy Nankivil, director of organizational well-being at the AMA, said in a release.

The roughly 12,400-doctor survey also polled physicians on several other areas of their professional well-being—job satisfaction, job stress, their intent to leave their organization, whether they feel valued by their organization and the total hours spent per week on work-related activities.

Across these, the AMA highlighted an uptick in physicians’ job satisfaction from 68% in 2022 to 72.1% in 2023. The percentage of respondents who said they felt valued by their organization—which the AMA noted has ties to burnout and retention—also rose from 46.3% in 2022 to 50.4% in 2023.

Reports of substantial job stress continue to be prevalent across the physician workforce, though this measure also dropped from 55.6% in 2022 to 50.7% in 2023. Here, the AMA underscored the more than 25% of respondents who said they didn’t have enough physicians and support staff as well as the 12.7% who pointed a finger at excessive administrative tasks.  

The AMA said it will be publishing a deeper breakdown of the findings in an upcoming publication. However, Nankivil said that the organizations’ survey results outline variation in burnout and the survey’s other items across physician demographic factors “such as specialty, gender or years in practice.”

Additionally, Nankivil said “we are seeing differences among organizations that have been focused on interventions to drive positive changes in workflow or workload such as improving inbox management or redesigning workflows to optimize team delegation.”

Professional organizations, clinical leaders and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., have sounded the alarm on physician burnout and mental health. The issue has similarly become a focus for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which, along with the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, a clinician wellness nonprofit, released a free guide this year for hospital leaders to tackle burnout among their organization’s practitioners.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, industry-supported legislation passed in 2022 to fund work on healthcare provider mental health, is also up for reauthorization through 2029.