What is Burnout?

What is burnout? Burnout refers to a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by dealing with prolonged stress in the workplace. While burnout is associated with stress and the two are normally related, they differ as stress is temporary or situational and burnout can be more long term and won’t alleviate until steps are taken to resolve it. 


The overall rate of burnout among physicians is higher than the average workforce. According to a 2021 study, physician burnout rate was 42%, compared with a rate of 28% in other industries. The report indicates that the pandemic has played a significant role in burnout levels.

Nurse burnout rate percentages hover in the mid-30s depending on facility type and these are pre-pandemic numbers. Already facing a nursing shortage, healthcare organizations will need nurses to do more and more, increasing their burnout rate.


According to the same Medscape study, the causes of burnout have remained consistent over the past few years. Over the past five years, when physicians were asked to rank causes by significance, “too many bureaucratic tasks” and “spending too many hours at work,” were consistently ranked in the top three. For nurses, “mental and physical fatigue” lead to high burnout rates.


Medical burnout can have a domino effect to negatively impact quality of patient care, reduce professionalism and be an overall detriment to a physician’s and nurse’s own health and safety. Burnout can also cause employees to leave the profession leading to increased turnover at medical facilities, and risk of affecting the entire healthcare system. According to a Gallup study, burned-out employees are 2.6 times more likely to actively seek a different job. In addition, burned-out employees are 13% less confident in their performance and over 60% more likely to take a sick day. 


In order to have more productive and satisfied employees and give better care to your patients, it’s important to keep an eye out for burnout warning signs and proactively act because it won’t go away on its own. Here are a few ways to keep burnout low at your facility:

  1. Set examples of work/life balance: Offer flexible schedules, time off around holidays and ample PTO (and encourage employees to use their time off) to give employees time to reset and come back to work refreshed. 
  2. Promote workplace wellness: Provide resources to encourage taking care of your mental and physical health including healthy food options, workplace fitness programs and spaces for employees to relax for a few moments during their shifts. 
  3. Limit bureaucratic tasks: Eliminate or delegate administrative tasks and replace them with value added tasks. Allow physicians and nurses to identify low value tasks and decide whether to drop, delegate or redesign each task. 
  4. Equip employees with appropriate tools to handle work loads: Make sure they aren’t taking work home in the evenings or on weekends. If they aren’t able to complete tasks during the work day, evaluate work load or give them more assistance or implement appropriate technology/software to speed up processes and allow physicians to spend more time with patients.