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Burnout among medical students worse than in physicians

A new survey looks at burnout in practicing physicians and doctors in training

September 2023

WHILE LEVELS of burnout have spiked among physicians since the pandemic, a new report warns that the next generation of doctors, medical students, is reporting even higher levels of anxiety, hopelessness and stress.

The Physicians Foundation’s 2023 Survey of America’s Current and Future Physicians found that “the state of physician wellbeing—for both current and future physicians—remains low.” Data from the survey said that six in 10 physicians “often have feelings of burnout.” In 2018, by comparison, that number was four in 10.

While burnout numbers were largely the same for residents who responded to the survey, medical students reported even higher levels than more seasoned physicians. Among medical students who responded, for example, seven in 10 reported frequent burnout.

Here are other survey findings:
• Three-quarters of medical students said they’ve felt “inappropriate feelings of anger, tearfulness or anxiety.” Those numbers, by comparison, are 68% for residents and 53% for physicians.

• More than half (55%) of medical students said they’ve felt hopelessness or felt like they have no purpose. That’s considerably higher than levels reported by residents (43%) and physicians (34%).

• Nearly two-thirds of medical students said they’ve felt debilitating levels of stress. That number is significantly higher than the 45% of residents who reported similar feelings.

burnout-hospital-medicineCheck out our free report: a collection of articles focusing on physician burnout before, during and after the pandemic. Topics include how to rein in burnout, peer support and coaching, and saving clinician jobs.


Two-thirds of all respondents said there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health care. About half indicated that they knew a peer who would not seek mental health resources. And 40% of respondents said they or their colleagues were afraid to access mental health care because of questions that would be asked in medical licensure/credentialling/insurance applications.

When asked to identify strategies they thought could help alleviate burnout, respondents gave positive numbers to the following approaches:

Reducing administrative burdens: identified by 80% of physicians and 85% of residents as potentially helpful.

Confidential counseling, therapy or support lines: identified by 64% of physicians and 80% of residents as potentially helpful.

Changing/removing mental health questions from credentialling applications: identified by 59% of physicians and 64% of residents as potentially helpful.

Changing/removing mental health questions from licensure applications: identified by 64% of residents and 63% of medical students as potentially helpful.

The survey tried to drill down and pinpoint contributing factors to burnout and career dissatisfaction among physicians. Surprisingly, only 31% of physicians said their workplace prioritizes physician wellbeing. That number is down from 36% in the previous survey.

At least half the physicians and residents reported that “third-party involvement” from organizations such as insurance companies and regulators “consistently hinder” their ability to effectively and efficiently deliver patient care.

Perhaps even more distressing, most physicians said that physician groups and hospitals make financial gain their top priority. That view was supported by a whopping 71% of physicians, 66% of residents and 65% of medical students.

Large numbers of respondents also agreed that consolidation in health care is hurting patient care, while very small numbers said that private equity funding is good for the future of health care.

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