How is doctor burnout affecting patients?

Skin cancer screening
Dr. Jonette Keri, a Miami dermatologist, examines Amy Rey for symptoms of skin cancer due to sun exposure in this file photo from June 15, 2011.
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A new Mayo Clinic study shows that doctors have a much higher burnout rate than any other profession.

"Researchers at the Mayo Clinic surveyed 7,288 physicians on their quality of life and job satisfaction," Elaine Schattner wrote for The Atlantic. "The results are striking -- 46 percent of respondents reported at least one burnout symptom. The report indicates that doctors as a group, and relative to other highly educated individuals working similar hours, suffer high levels of emotional exhaustion and struggle to find a satisfying work-life balance."

Schattner, a physician and medical correspondent for The Atlantic, joined The Daily Circuit Thursday to discuss the research.

"I think some of the best doctors are the ones who become depressed because they want to do a good job," she said. "You start to realize you can't do a good job and the work becomes less fulfilling."

Lotte Dyrbye, associate professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, also joined the discussion.

"When we're talking about burnout, we're talking about having lost enthusiasm for work, feeling cynical and detached toward patients and having this low sense of personal accomplishment," she said.

Those doctors are more at risk for making medical errors and misdiagnosing patients, Dyrbye said.

Patients are likely to experience it directly in their relationships with physicians, she said. It looks like the "opposite of empathy."

"Ideally you want your physician to be compassionate, to be in touch with you, to be able to relate to what you're saying," Dyrbye said. "When a physician becomes more depersonalized or detached, they stop caring about the patient in the way I think we want to be cared for by our physician."

Her research showed that younger physicians were more likely than those later in their careers to experience burn out.

On the blog, Kelly wrote about burning out quickly in the field.

"I am, or was a medical doctor, who burned out relatively quickly -- watching my physician teacher's depersonalization, frustration, and poor quality of life made me think twice about continuing to practice in a failing medical system," she wrote. "I left medicine to pursue a career in natural medicine where I now can practice 'health care' the way I want to -- best decision of my life."

Dyrbye said it's important for physicians to continue hobbies outside of work to stay grounded and well. Many medical professionals think about continuing hobbies once they retire and have more free time.

"That's a really dangerous way to live life from a perspective of burn out and well being," Dyrbye said. "All too many physicians unfortunately fall into that trap."

Are you burned out? Comment on the blog.

MPR News' Madelyn Mahon contributed to this report.