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Frontline physician burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic: national survey findings



Physician burnout and wellbeing are an ongoing concern. Limited research has reported on the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on burnout over time among U.S. physicians.


We surveyed U.S. frontline physicians at two time points (wave one in May-June 2020 and wave two in Dec 2020-Jan 2021) using a validated burnout measure. The survey was emailed to a national stratified random sample of family physicians, internists, hospitalists, intensivists, emergency medicine physicians, and infectious disease physicians. Burnout was assessed with the Professional Fulfillment Index Burnout Composite scale (PFI-BC). Responses were weighted to account for sample design and non-response bias. Random effects and quantile regression analyses were used to estimate change in conditional mean and median PFI-BC scores, adjusting for physician, geographic, and pandemic covariates.


In the random effects regression, conditional mean burnout scores increased in the second wave among all respondents (difference 0.15 (CI: 0.24, 0.57)) and among respondents to both waves (balanced panel) (difference 0.21 (CI: - 0.42, 0.84)). Conditional burnout scores increased in wave 2 among all specialties except for Emergency medicine, with the largest increases among Hospitalists, 0.28 points (CI: - 0.19,0.76) among all respondents and 0.36 (CI: - 0.39,1.11) in the balanced panel, and primary care physicians, 0.21 (CI: - 0.23,0.66) among all respondents and 0.31 (CI: - 0.38,1.00) in the balanced panel. The conditional mean PFI-BC score among hospitalists increased from 1.10 (CI: 0.73,1.46) to 1.38 (CI: 1.02,1.74) in wave 2 in all respondents and from 1.49 (CI: 0.69,2.29) to 1.85 (CI: 1.24,2.46) in the balanced panel, near or above the 1.4 threshold indicating burnout. Findings from quantile regression were consistent with those from random effects.


Rates of physician burnout during the first year of the pandemic increased over time among four of five frontline specialties, with greatest increases among hospitalist and primary care respondents. Our findings, while not statistically significant, were consistent with worsening burnout; both the random effects and quantile regressions produced similar point estimates. Impacts of the ongoing pandemic on physician burnout warrant further research.

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