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Ophthalmologists may be bucking the trend in a recent study on physician burnout


The survey, from The Larry A. Greene Center and the Primary Care Collaborative, found that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact on the well-being of physicians.

The incidence of burnout among physicians in the United States increased dramatically during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a published study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.1

According to an AMA news release, researchers noted that 2020 marked the end of a six-year period of decline in the overall rate of work-induced burnout among physicians. By the end of 2021, after 21 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the physician burnout rate spiked to a new height that was greater than previously monitored by researchers.

“While the worst days of COVID-19 pandemic are hopefully behind us, there is an urgent need to attend to physicians who put everything into our nation’s response to COVID-19, too often at the expense of their own well-being,” said AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., MD. “The sober findings from the new research demand urgent action as outlined in the AMA’s Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians, which focuses on supporting physicians, removing obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care, and prioritizing physician well-being as essential requirements to achieving national health goals.”

According to the news release, the new physician burnout research builds on landmark studies conducted at regular intervals between 2011 and 2021 by researchers from the AMA, Mayo Clinic and Stanford Medicine. Together, these studies found the overall prevalence of burnout among U.S. physicians was 62.8% in 2021 compared with 38.2% in 2020, 43.9% in 2017, 54.4% in 2014, and 45.5% in 2011. Each study consistently demonstrated that the overall prevalence of occupational burnout among physicians were higher relative to the U.S. workforce.

Since 2012, the AMA has been a key driver of the national conversation on solving the physician burnout crisis and advocated for new thinking and solutions that acknowledge physicians need support, system reforms, and burden reduction. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the drivers of physician burnout. Research has shown that due to COVID-related stress, 1 in 5 physicians intend to leave their current practice within 2 years.

Accoridng to the news release, the AMA’s ongoing work to mitigate physician burnout, as exemplified by the Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians, strives to attack the dysfunction in health care by removing the obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care. The AMA website offers physicians and health systems a choice of cutting-edge tools, information and resources to help rekindle a joy in medicine, including:

STEPS Forward – a collection of more than 70 award‐winning online toolkits offered by the AMA that help physicians and medical teams make transformative changes to their practices and covers everything from managing stress and preventing burnout to improving practice workflow.

Organizational Biopsy – a set of measurement resources developed by the AMA that assess burnout levels within medical organizations to provide metrics that can guide solutions and interventions that mitigate system-level burnout rates and improve physician well-being.

International Conference on Physician Health – a biennial meeting held this October in Orlando, Fla. that brings together the AMA, British Medical Association and Canadian Medical Association to support health and well-being in the ranks of physicians and medical students.
Joy in Medicine Health System Recognition Program - an AMA distinction, now in its third year, that recognizes health systems with a demonstrated commitment to pursue proven strategies that reduce work-related burnout among care teams.

Debunking Regulatory Myths – a series created by the AMA that provides physicians and their care teams with resources to reduce guesswork and administrative burdens and focus on streamlining clinical workflow processes, improving patient outcomes and increasing physician satisfaction.

The AMA continues to work on every front to address the physician burnout crisis. Through our research, collaborations, advocacy and leadership, the AMA is working to make the patient‐physician relationship more valued than paperwork, preventive care the focus of the future, technology an asset and not a burden, and physician burnout a thing of the past.

Earlier this year, a survey, from The Larry A. Greene Center and the Primary Care Collaborative, found that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact on the well-being of physicians.

The Larry A. Green Center survey found that of the physician respondents, 36% say their physical well-being has been suffered while 45% say their psychological well-being has suffered. A further 44% say that their personal burnout has reached an all-time high and 48 percent reported their office burnout is at an all-time high.

There may be some good news for ophthalmologists.

In a separate Medscape survey earlier this year, 22% of ophthalmologists reported feeling burned out, while just 3% reported feeling depressed. Only 8% reported feeling both.

However, the survey found that US physicians say a decrease in income of 11% to 50%. Ophthalmologists were among the specialists whose incomes declined by more than 50%.

The Medscape survey also asked about those on the flip side — the happiest. Plastic surgeons were at the top (41%), followed by those in public health/preventive medicine (40%) and ophthalmologists (39%).


1. Tait D. Shanafelt, MD, Colin P. West, MD, PhD, Lotte N. Dryrbye, MD, MHPE, Hanhan Wang, MPS, Lindsey E. Carlassare, MBA, Christine Sinsky, MD; Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Integration in Physician Over the First 2 Years of the COVID-19 Pandmeic. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Published September 13, 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2022.09.002

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