Physician burnout as a symptom of our ailing healthcare system

 In a guest essay for the New York Times this week, Dr. Eric Reinhart argues that physician burnout is not solely a product of physicians’ deteriorating working conditions, but is also driven by a loss of faith in the larger US healthcare system.

He notes that physicians have begun to lose hope in their ability to improve the system in which they work. As outpourings of appreciation for heroic healthcare workers have ended, physicians find themselves working in a system whose myriad structural flaws have been exacerbated by the pandemic. While the system might serve certain physician groups well (particularly specialists who are advantaged by the American Medical Association’s billing code structures), it often fails the patients who trust them for their care, and doctors “are now finding it difficult to quash the suspicion that our institutions, and much of [their] work inside them, primarily serve a moneymaking machine”.

The Gist: While elevating burnout to the level of culture, ideology, and faith in the US healthcare system may be met with skepticism by health system leaders interested in concrete solutions to their workforce problems, it’s important to acknowledge that material benefits and operational improvements may not fully solve engagement challenges.

Compared to peer nations, our healthcare system can be uniquely seen as unfair and unequal, whether because of medical debt, maternal mortality, or declining life expectancies—and many providers feel ill-equipped to address these concerns in their daily work.

This piece serves as a reminder of why most clinicians chose healthcare in the first place: to save lives and help people. The younger generation of physicians is rethinking what that mission means, and how it should include more than just care delivery—and they’re more open to aggressive policy solutions to address systemic inequalities

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