New Survey Uncovers the Future of Medicine is in Jeopardy
The Physicians Foundation and The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation Call for Systemic Change to Improve Current and Future Physicians’ Wellbeing
BOSTON, September 14, 2023 – The Physicians Foundation announces its new survey, 2023 Survey of America’s Current and Future Physicians, with findings that demonstrate a critical need for systemic changes within the health industry to help improve the future of medicine. Similar to previous years, the state of physician wellbeing remains low; however, residents and medical students report even lower states of wellbeing. In recognition of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day (NPSA) on September 17, The Physicians Foundation and The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation are accelerating systems change through Vital Signs: The Campaign to Prevent Physician Suicide to improve the wellbeing of physicians at all stages of their careers.
“Our country and health care system has been through a tremendous amount of stress and change in recent years. We’re seeing how the pandemic, staff shortages, healthcare consolidation and more are exacerbating a system that already needed to see change and causing record levels of burnout,” said Gary Price, MD, president of The Physicians Foundation. “The Foundation’s latest survey demonstrates these impacts on both current and future physicians, signifying that systemic change must happen now to help improve the future of medicine. This NPSA Day and beyond, we hope that everyone will join us in our urgent call to support physicians in creating a health care system that is strong and sustainable.”
The State of Wellbeing Remains Low
For the third year in a row, six in ten (58%) physicians often have feelings of burnout, compared to four in ten before the pandemic in 2018. Like their physician colleagues, six in 10 (61%) residents often have feelings of burnout. Whereas, seven in ten (71%) medical students report often having feelings of burnout. Furthermore, more than half of physicians (51%) know of a physician who has ever considered, attempted or died by suicide, remaining consistent since 2021. Though just starting their careers, a shocking proportion of students (45%) know a colleague or peer who has considered suicide, compared to residents (38%) and physicians (36%).
Despite high levels of stress, burnout and mental health distress, stigma and structural barriers prevent current and future physicians from seeking the care and support they need, with the majority of physicians (78%), residents (79%) and medical students (76%) agreeing that there is stigma surrounding mental health and seeking mental health care among physicians.
Creating a Culture of Wellbeing Among Future Physicians
In the face of these challenges, the survey suggests that residents and medical students strive to support themselves and each other. Agreement is significantly higher among residents and medical students compared to physicians for reporting that they know suicidal warning signs (physicians, 71%; residents, 83%; and medical students, 77%) and that they have checked in with a colleague experiencing mental distress (physicians, 35%; residents, 63%; and medical students, 67%). Residents (29%) and students (47%) are also significantly more likely to have sought medical attention for mental health in the past year, compared to physicians (19%). Lastly, six in ten medical students (60%) agree that physician wellbeing is a topic of conversation in medical school classes.
To better support the future physician workforce, The Physicians Foundation and The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation launched Dear FutureDoc, a new initiative from the Vital Signs campaign around NPSA Day. The goals of Dear FutureDoc are to encourage future physicians to reflect on their own mental health and wellbeing, to support each other and share their hopes for the future of physician wellbeing.
Dear FutureDoc includes three main resources:
- Note to Self: A notecard that medical students, residents and physicians can use to write a personal message to their future selves for encouragement.
- Note to Others: A notecard that future and current physicians can use to write an encouraging message to a peer or colleague.
- Selfie Sign: A sign to use as a background to take a selfie and post on social media with a message about their hopes for the wellbeing of physicians in 20 years.
Solutions to Improve the Future of Medicine
The future of medicine is dependent on change to offer the right resources and eliminate barriers that impact physicians’ wellbeing. Physicians, residents and students have identified the solutions they need. At the top of the list, physicians (80%) and residents (85%) agree that reducing administrative burdens, such as low-value work, insurance approvals and unnecessary mandatory training, is helpful to improving wellbeing. Additionally, we found that at least half of physicians and residents report insurance requirements (physicians, 76%; residents, 77%), documentation protocols (physicians, 71%; residents, 67%), regulatory policies (physicians, 60%; residents, 50%) and mandatory training requirements (physicians, 53%; residents, 54%) as often or always hindering their autonomy to deliver high-quality, cost-efficient care.
“Ensuring the wellbeing of physicians, medical students and residents demands cultural and systemic changes,” said Corey Feist, co-founder and president of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation. “Through our Caring for Caregivers program we are working with hospitals, health systems and medical groups to reduce administrative burdens and remove barriers to access mental health care. Additionally, we launched a new Medical Student Coalition to empower medical students to reflect on the challenges that they face and the solutions that they need. We envision a future where seeking mental health services is universally viewed as a sign of strength for the physicians of today and tomorrow.”
Read the full survey results and methodology here. Learn more and access the resources and solutions mentioned at NPSADay.org.
This information is intended for educational purposes only. If you or someone you know may be in a crisis, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.
About The Physicians Foundation
The Physicians Foundation is a nonprofit seeking to advance the work of practicing physicians and help them facilitate the delivery of high-quality health care to patients. As the U.S. health care system continues to evolve, The Physicians Foundation is steadfast in strengthening the physician-patient relationship, supporting medical practices’ sustainability and helping physicians navigate the changing health care system. The Physicians Foundation pursues its mission through research, education and innovative grant making that improves physician wellbeing, strengthens physician leadership, addresses drivers of health and lifts physician perspectives. For more information, visit www.physiciansfoundation.org.
About the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation
The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded by the family of Dr. Lorna Breen. The mission of the Foundation is to reduce burnout of health care professionals and safeguard their wellbeing and job satisfaction. Their vision is that obtaining mental health support services is universally viewed as a strength and job requisite for health care professionals. The Foundation has three main tactics to achieve long-term change:
- Advise the health care industry on wellbeing initiatives that provide holistic mental health supports.
- Build awareness on mental health prevalence to reduce the stigma; and
- Fund research and programs that seek to reduce health care professional burnout and improve their wellbeing.
The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, alongside Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global and the CAA Foundation and Creative Artists Agency, co-founded and co-lead ALL IN: WellBeing First for Healthcare, a coalition that focuses on systems-level, evidence-based solutions to improve healthcare worker mental health and well-being and shift the cultural stigma around health workers accessing mental health services.
About the Physicians Foundation’s 2023 Survey of America’s Current and Future Physicians
Each year, the Physicians Foundation assesses physician sentiment surrounding the practice environment and patient care, so we can understand where things stand and drive change to enhance physician practice and improve patient health outcomes. In 2023, the survey was conducted online among U.S. physicians, medical residents and clerkship/clinical rotation medical students, who were derived from Medscape’s proprietary database. The survey was fielded from June 8 through June 28, 2023.