Association Between Physician Burnout and Identification With Medicine as a Calling

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Abstract

Objective:

To evaluate the association between degree of professional burnout and physicians’ sense of calling.

Participants and Methods:

US physicians across all specialties were surveyed between October 24, 2014, and May 29, 2015. Professional burnout was assessed using a validated single-item measure. Sense of calling, defined as committing one's life to personally meaningful work that serves a prosocial purpose, was assessed using 6 validated true-false items. Associations between burnout and identification with calling items were assessed using multivariable logistic regressions.

Results:

A total of 2263 physicians completed surveys (63.1% response rate). Among respondents, 28.5% (n=639) reported experiencing some degree of burnout. Compared with physicians who reported no burnout symptoms, those who were completely burned out had lower odds of finding their work rewarding (odds ratio [OR], 0.05; 95% CI, 0.02–0.10; P<.001), seeing their work as one of the most important things in their lives (OR, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.21–0.69; P<.001), or thinking their work makes the world a better place (OR, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.17–0.85; P=.02). Burnout was also associated with lower odds of enjoying talking about their work to others (OR, 0.23; 95% CI, 0.13–0.41; P<.001), choosing their work life again (OR, 0.11; 95% CI, 0.06–0.20; P<.001), or continuing with their current work even if they were no longer paid if they were financially stable (OR, 0.30; 95% CI, 0.15–0.59; P<.001).

Conclusion:

Physicians who experience more burnout are less likely to identify with medicine as a calling. Erosion of the sense that medicine is a calling may have adverse consequences for physicians as well as those for whom they care.

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