Nov 17, 2022 - Health

Burnout plagues younger primary care docs

Share of physicians who say they sought mental health treatment since the pandemic began
Data: The Commonwealth Fund; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

Half of U.S. primary care physicians under the age of 55 say they're burned out and some anticipate leaving the profession in the next three years, per a new survey from the Commonwealth Fund.

Why it matters: It's the latest evidence of doctor shortages that could hamper efforts to reduce health disparities and fill gaps in care as the nation emerges from the pandemic.

What they found: Nearly two-thirds of young clinicians reported higher rates of emotional distress, but few of them are seeking out help or support.

  • Just 16% of clinicians under the age of 55 reported seeking help, while 6% of primary care physicians over the age of 55 sought support.
  • "Physicians often feel they are the ones who have to show strength in crisis and though they will tell their patients it's not a weakness to seek support, it's not always clear that they feel permission to do that themselves," said David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund.

Go deeper: Burnout isn't limited to primary care physicians: A new report from the American Federation of Teachers, which represents nearly 200,000 health care workers, shows how staffing shortages are weighing on nurses and medical workers.

  • There were 55,000 fewer nurses working in 2021 than 2020, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited in the report.
  • "The staffing shortages put a tremendous amount of strain on tired and overworked bedside caregivers," the report states.
  • The union recommends safe staffing requirements for nurses, investment in financial aid and scholarships for health workers and raising entry-level salaries to attract workers.
  • The Commonwealth Fund survey recommends increasing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for primary care services.

What's next: Provider groups are asking Congress for financial relief in the lame duck session, but it's unclear which requests will be accommodated.

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