The Physicians Foundation’s New Survey Unveils Disconnect Between What Physicians Want and What the Support System Around Them Provides

BOSTON, September 15, 2022 – In recognition of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day (September 17, 2022), The Physicians Foundation, Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation and #FirstRespondersFirst have come together to accelerate systems change so physicians’ burnout does not become a mental health emergency. Through Vital Signs: The Campaign to Prevent Physician Suicide, the organizations are galvanizing others to take action on the system level so that each physician feels supported on an individual level.

“Unsurprisingly, our 2022 Survey of America’s Physicians uncovered that there has not been any change in physician burnout in the past year, and it remains significantly higher (62%) than pre-pandemic times (40% in 2018),” said Gary Price, M.D., president of The Physicians Foundation. “Physician burnout has not gone unnoticed by our profession or by society, and yet there is still stigma surrounding mental health care, underlying system barriers and a lack of solutions in action to address them.”

Understandably, the past two and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on physicians’ mental health. However, eight in 10 physicians (80%) reported that there is stigma surrounding mental health and seeking mental health care among physicians. Further, only one-third (31%) of physicians believe suicide prevention resources for physicians exist and are easy to access.

The steps to better support physicians are not a secret—physicians have identified who and what supports their mental health and wellbeing most. Confidential therapy, counseling or support phone lines (65%) and peer-to-peer support groups (57%) were rated as the most helpful resources among physicians who had experience with the resource. Additionally, nine workplace solutions were identified as helpful by most physicians (70-89%), including removing low-value work, ensuring adequate mental health care outside of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and giving physicians more flexibility and autonomy.

“With physicians having one of the highest suicide rates of any profession, we must do more to get the mental health resources in their hands and wellbeing workforce solutions implemented in every practice environment,” said Shekhar Saxena, professor of the Practice of Global Mental Health, Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and mental health subject matter expert for #FirstRespondersFirst. “That’s why we have curated evidenced-based physician suicide prevention resources and developed the Healthcare Workforce Rescue Package that can build a foundation for a long-term wellbeing strategy for any health system. There is no excuse for not acting on this critical issue.”

A lasting change will result when everyone works to break down stigma and health leaders take systemwide action. Unfortunately, only about one-third (36%) of physicians agree that their workplace culture prioritizes physician wellbeing. Additionally, most physicians (50-66%) shared that their workplace rarely or never acts on eight of the workplace solutions that support physicians’ wellbeing.

 “One of the most substantial barriers is stigmatizing and intrusive mental health questions on medical licensure and hospital credentialing applications. In fact, nearly four in 10 physicians (39%) were either afraid or knew another physician fearful of seeking mental health care because of questions asked in medical licensure, credentialing or insurance applications,” said Corey Feist, co-founder and president of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation. “My sister-in-law Dr. Lorna Breen, who died by suicide in April 2020, was also one of these physicians. She was convinced that if she received mental health care, she would lose her medical license or face ostracism from colleagues. Sadly, we have heard from a number of families who lost physicians to suicide and their loved ones who expressed nearly identical concerns to Lorna.”

Many medical boards have audited and changed the intrusive language from their licensure applications. As of August 24, 2022, 17 states, including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington, have aligned their applications to either:

  • Ask one question consistent with the Federation of State Medical Board’s recommended language that addresses all mental and physical health conditions as one, with no added explanations, asterisks or fine print
  • Refrain from asking probing questions about an applicant’s health altogether
  • Implement an Attestation Model that uses supportive language around mental health and offers “safe haven” non-reporting options to physicians who are receiving care

“With creating the first-of-its kind map that recognizes the states who are all in for changing their medical licensure applications, we hope to see more medical boards make this life-saving change and hospitals and health systems to follow suit with their credentialing applications,” continues Feist.

“It is undeniable that physicians need and deserve better. Investing in physician wellbeing solutions not only benefits physicians, but it also improves the health of our entire country. By prioritizing physician wellbeing, patient outcomes will improve, because to care for others, physicians must first be cared for themselves,” concludes Dr. Price.

Read the full survey results and methodology here.

Explore the ALL IN States identified in collaboration with Participant and the American Medical Student Association at www.drlornabreen.org/removebarriers.

Learn more and access the resources and solutions mentioned at NPSADay.org.

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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 social 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:

  1. Advise the health care industry on wellbeing initiatives that provide holistic mental health supports.
  2. Build awareness on mental health prevalence to reduce the stigma; and
  3. Fund research and programs that seek to reduce health care professional burnout and improve their wellbeing.

About #FirstRespondersFirst

#FirstRespondersFirst, an initiative of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global and the CAA Foundation and Creative Artists Agency, takes a whole human approach to addressing the needs of healthcare workers in order to support their ability to serve on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Through its campaign, ALL IN: WellBeing First for Healthcare, #FirstRespondersFirst is working to advance solutions to improve the well-being of the healthcare workforce and eliminate persistent mental health and well-being challenges that disadvantage our healthcare workers, and therefore, the future of public health. #FirstRespondersFirst is a fund of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that meets all 20 Better Business Bureau charity standards and carries the GuideStar Platinum Seal of Transparency.

Media Contact: pfmedia@jpa.com