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September 18, 2018

Physician Burnout—A Serious Symptom, But of What?

Author Affiliations
  • 1School of Medicine, University of Nevada, Reno
  • 2University of Michigan Health System, Department of Family Medicine and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, Ann Arbor
JAMA. 2018;320(11):1109-1110. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.11703

A patient complains of intermittent wheezing. He cannot characterize the wheezing further with regard to timing, precipitating events, or how it affects his health. A physician makes a diagnosis of asthma without further evaluation, gives the patient several recommendations regarding lifestyle modification and potential precipitants, and prescribes an inhaled long-acting β-agonist and corticosteroid.

Few physicians would endorse this approach to the patient’s care. Yet that is how the profession is approaching the issue of physician burnout. The term burnout has taken on meaning far beyond what is understood about it as an actual diagnosis or even a syndrome. The medical profession has taken a self-reported complaint of unhappiness and dissatisfaction and turned it into a call for action on what is claimed to be a national epidemic that purportedly affects half to two-thirds of practicing physicians.1

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