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  • Writer's pictureBruce Cummings

Findings From the Mass General Physician Organization (MGPO) Multi-Year Burnout Study

Updated: May 13

I have long admired Mass General Hospital, the flagship teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and one of the world's leading hospitals and health systems, and was fortunate to have worked there early in my career as a clinic manager in the ambulatory care division. My esteem for MGH -- now, Mass General Brigham -- increased yet again when I saw that it had countenanced a multi-year study of burnout among its own physicians. The latest results, updating findings from prior surveys in 2017 and 2019, appear in an October 6 JAMA Open Forum article, "Patterns in Physician Burnout in a Stable-Linked Cohort."

The findings are not pretty.

Clinician Burnout Continues to Increase

Some 1373 physicians -- 79% of those who participated in the first and second surveys -- also responded to this latest query. The study of MGPO physicians showed that burnout has continued to increase -- there and almost everywhere -- despite all the declamations of concern, all the ink spilled in learned publications, and the many clarion calls to action issued by various national professional and trade associations. Within this particular cohort, MGPO primary care physicians had rates of burnout greater than specialists; women had higher rates of burnout than their male counterparts; and physicians with less than 10 years of experience had higher rates than their more seasoned colleagues.

The data are sobering but will surprise no one who is paying close attention to the rising tide of burnout among nurses, physicians, and other front-line caregivers across the country.

MGH and MGPO are to be commended first for conducting a multi-year survey to understand the extent of the problem and, in turn, for their transparency in publishing the results. Now the onus is on the executive leadership of that august organization to develop a robust action plan with clear cut accountabilities, focused principally on changing specific conditions in the workplace and workflow which drive burnout. Ratcheting up more personal resilience and wellness offerings -- so often the default action mistakenly taken by other hospitals and health systems -- is NOT the solution. Indeed, the "default action" would be beneath MGH's reputation as the premier research hospital in the US.

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