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What is Burnout?

Formal Definition of Burnout

Burnout is not a diagnosis but rather a combination of symptoms:

  • Exhaustion
  • Cynicism and detachment
  • Loss of ability to empathize and connect
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

The practical translation of this definition is that individuals who are committed to caring for others are not able to do so as effectively and efficiently as possible, and they are unable to thrive personally and professionally.  

Causes of Burnout

Burnout is the result of a combination of factors and there are different pathways that ultimately lead to burnout for different individuals. Some of the factors identified in the literature are as follows:

  • Administrative/technical burden, particularly navigating EMR systems
  • Workload
  • Process inefficiencies
  • Lack of control over work
  • New payment models
  • Not being able to operate at license/training level
  • Publicly reported quality metrics
  • Repeated exposure to helping families with stressful decisions
  • Complicated ethical issues
  • Clinical futility
  • Patient suffering
  • Diminished or inadequate time and space to meet with colleagues
  • Work/life balance

Impact of Burnout: No one is Immune to the Potential Effects of Burnout

Whether you are a medical provider, other type of employee, co-worker, part of leadership, a patient or family member, you may be impacted by burnout in the healthcare workforce.

Individual Impact

  • Increased anxiety, depression and suicidality
  • Increased substance use/misuse
  • Other physical health impacts: headaches, cardiac, gastro, blood pressure
  • Negative impact on healthy life-style: sleep, nutrition, exercise, interest in hobbies
  • Negative impact on relationships inside and outside of work
  • Job impacts: impaired job performance, decreased perception of job performance, dissatisfaction with job, absenteeism, job changes

 Patient Impact

  • Decreased quality and poor patient safety outcomes
  • Increased medical errors, healthcare associated infections, negative 30-day mortality rates

 System Impact

  • Morale
  • Operations/productivity
  • Quality ratings
  • Financial stability
  • Turnover costs
    • 7 billion attributed annually to hospital-employed physician turnover
    • The cost of replacing a PCP or specialist ranges from $100,000 to $300,000
    • One study found that the yearly productivity loss attributable to burnout may be equivalent to eliminating the graduating classes of 7 medical schools



For more information or to discuss stress and resilience concerns please contact Partners Employee Assistance Program at 1-866-724-4EAP.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service. 

This content was last modified on: 05/15/2019

Partners EAP is not a service for the general public.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

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