14% of NYC physicians are burned out—compared to a national average of 54%

Physicians employed at small, independent primary care practices (SIPs) in New York report dramatically lower levels of burnout, according to research published July 9 in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 

The researchers, led by Donna Shelley, MD, of NYU Langone Health in New York, found the rate of physician burnout is almost 14 percent in NYC, compared to the 2014 national average of 54 percent.

“Physician burnout is a major concern for the healthcare industry,” according to a prepared statement issued by NYU Langone Health. “It is associated with low job satisfaction, reduced productivity among physicians, and may negatively impact quality of care. Multiple national surveys suggest that more than half of all physicians report symptoms of burnout.”

Shelley and colleagues studied questionnaire data from 235 physicians practicing in 174 SIPs in New Yoprk, part of the HealthyHearts NYC (HHNYC) trial. The study population included 33 percent of physicians from multi-provider practices and 67 percent single provider practices.

Each physician participant was asked to answer a multiple-choice question highlighting her level of burnout. Answer options ranged from no burnout to feeling completely burnt out.

The participants were also asked questions regarding the culture of their practices. Physicians who described a culture where they have opportunities for growth and the ability to learn from mistakes through communication with one another reported lower levels of burnout.

“Burnout is about the practice culture and infrastructure in which primary care doctors work. So the obvious question is: What is it about the work environment that results in low burnout rates in small practices?” Shelley said in the statement. “It’s important to study the group that’s not showing high burnout to help us create environments that foster lower burnout rates. The good news is that a culture and systems can be changed to support primary care doctors in a way that would reduce the factors that are leading to burnout.”

Shelley et al. noted that, although single provider practice physicians reported lower burnout rates, many of those practices are in financial strain and the physicians are regularly on call.

“The more we can understand what drives low rates of burnout, the more likely it is that we'll find solutions to this problem,” Shelley said. "The hope is that our research can inform ways for larger systems to foster autonomy within practices so that there is peace to carve out a work environment that is aligned with doctors' needs, values and competencies."