There is no question that being a physician is a tough job. Working long hours and being face to face with patients all day is rewarding, especially if you’re benign compensated fairly. But if done for too long or without breaks can lead to feelings of burnout. It’s necessary to understand the signs of burnout and how your compensation may come into play as a physician as well. 

What is Physician Burnout? 

Physician burnout is similar to other types of burnout but is specifically linked to your role as a physician. Burnout itself is a long-term stress reaction. You can identify burnout by emotional exhaustion, a lack of a sense of accomplishment, and even depersonalization with those around you. These are the three major signs of burnout and they can develop over a long period of time or come out of seemingly nowhere. Unlike other forms of work-related burnout, physician burnout can be dangerous to physicians and their patients. This is why it’s so important to check in as a physician and work with your employer to try to avoid feelings of burnout. 

Factors that Impact Physician Burnout 

There are a couple of factors that will impact the burnout rate of physicians. One of those can be issues in compensation for the position. When you begin negotiating your contract as a physician, it’s important to understand your value in the role as compared to the compensation your employer is offering you. You can learn more about what to expect in a physician’s contract from this helpful guide

When you start working as a physician you may not know exactly what to ask for in your compensation, and as you continue to work long hours at a rate that doesn’t feel fair, this can contribute to feelings of burnout. This feeling may also contribute to feelings of a lack of efficacy. This is when you begin to doubt the meaning or quality of your work. If you feel that your work isn’t serving a greater purpose or you aren’t being fairly recognized for your work, it can quickly contribute to burnout. 

Causes of Burnout

While many factors can cause burnout in the medical field, five main factors contribute to burnout. 

  1. Being a Physician 
  2. Your Day to Day Job
  3. Personal Life
  4. Traits from Medical School 
  5. Immediate Management and Supervision 

While it may seem strange to say that being a physician can be a factor of burnout, it’s not too far-fetched. The job of a physician is inherently stressful. Sometimes it can feel like there just isn’t enough time to help every patient in need. Being around those that are hurt or sick can also take a mental toll on physicians. 

Your specific job can also impact the effects of burnout. The stress levels of your job can be impacted by the practice you work for and the co-workers around you as well. Moving jobs won’t necessarily fix this problem, but knowing when to take breaks or speak with your supervisors when you are at capacity can help put some of the stress at bay. 

Medical school is necessary to become a physician, but some of the traits and values that are picked up along the way can contribute to stress in the workplace. Some traits include feeling like you have to work on everything on your own, as well as perfectionism and overworking yourself.

How to Avoid Burnout 

There are luckily a couple of coping mechanisms that can help physicians avoid burnout. One of the first ones is finding a healthy work-life balance. Having hobbies outside of work can help relieve stress. It also helps physicians see that other parts of life are just as important as your work. 

Another way to try to avoid burnout is to be open with your supervision and management staff. If your management staff doesn’t know how you are feeling, they won’t be able to work with you to minimize your stressors in the workplace if they don’t know what’s going on. Working with your employer can help ease up your schedule or create more breaks throughout the day. 

If you feel that you are doing more work than you are being compensated for, you should also make that known to your employers. Eliminating these stressors in the workplace and negotiating for what you deserve should help to prevent burnout. 

If you feel burnout coming on, you may even want to take time off to rest and recover. Taking a break from the busy everyday life of a physician can be a perfect reset and help you come back better than ever. 


No one wants to experience burnout but it is a feeling that can come quickly to those that are overworked. Finding a balance as a physician with a life outside of work and appropriate compensation is a challenge. But once you can do this, you will be at a lower risk of burnout and continue doing a job that you love every day. 


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