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Innovative Model Boosts Surgeon Morale & Prevents Surgical Burnout

White Papers

Healthcare is facing a daunting challenge in the form of physician burnout. Although not all physicians face this issue, studies indicate that it is becoming more prevalent among surgeons. This white paper discusses current studies on physician burnout as well as what TeamHealth is doing to try to combat it with its orthopedic hospitalists/surgicalists.


In healthcare today, physician burnout is an under-recognized, expanding, and potentially disastrous issue. Burnout is a pathologic response to stress that manifests in a classic triad of symptoms—emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. Some say that these symptoms exist in many adult American workers; however, studies have shown that physicians are more at risk than the general public.

A 2012 study in Archives of Internal Medicine noted a 45.8 percent of physicians exhibit symptoms of burnout. When the study compared physicians to other working adults in the U.S., physicians were statistically found to be more likely to experience burnout (p<0.001). This is true despite the fact that in fields of work other than medicine, increased education seems to help protect against burnout. Of even more concern is that this malady appears to be increasing. In 2014 the authors of the 2012 study repeated their survey and found that the rate of burnout had increased to 54.4 percent and that satisfaction with work-life balance had declined significantly as well.

Causes of burnout

Why is burnout such an epidemic among today’s physicians? According to a 2013 survey of physicians reported in Medscape, there are many reasons.

  1. Too many bureaucratic tasks. The increased utilization of electronic medical records (EMRs) is one such task that, according to a December 2015 Chicago Tribune article by John Russell, seems to be contributing to burnout.
  2. Present and future impacts of the Accountable Care Act (ACA).
  3. Too many hours at work.
  4. The feeling that you’re just a cog in the wheel.
  5. Increased computerization of the practice
  6. Lack of professional fulfillmen

TeamHealth’s unique approach for surgeons

TeamHealth has long held the opinion that the key to minimizing burnout among our surgeons may be the model of care. We have developed a 24-hour shift model that clearly defines our orthopedic and acute care general surgeons’ responsibilities and allows them to cover emergency department and inpatient consults for hospitals without elective practice responsibilities. We also provide adequate compensation at a very competitive rate and allow our surgeons to only work approximately one-third of each month. We hypothesize that the freedom of 20 days off per month and the flexibility and control over their schedules more than make up for the organized call stress.

When the overall results were compared, we found that:

  • 45 Physicians returned surveys, and 38 of the respondents answered every question
  • The Maslach inventory has 22 questions, each of which was assigned to 1 of the 3 burnout symptom

Our Belief

As a physician-led organization, TeamHealth is dedicated to its patients as well as to the health and well-being of its clinicians. Burnout among physicians is an issue of great concern to us, as it is to all of those involved in healthcare and patient safety. We believe that in the area of acute care surgery and orthopedics, our practice model can be of significant benefit to many physicians by improving their attitudes towards their profession. This, in turn, results in much improved patient care, improved patient safety, and great benefit to our client hospitals and systems.