Are You Getting Burned Out By All The New Articles On Physician Burnout? I Am!
I don’t know about you. But, between JACR, Medscape, Diagnostic Imaging, Radiology, AJR, JAMA, the New England Journal of Medicine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and a myriad other radiology journals, the numbers of articles about physician burnout have starkly increased. So much so that you cannot go without one week without coming across a new report on the subject.
And, I acknowledge that burnout is a real problem. Yes, physicians that I know tire of reading increasing numbers of studies. They drown in electronic records. Others complain every day about the lack of control they experience in medicine. Also, I concede that there is a high suicide rate of physicians throughout the field. These are real events and facts that contribute to a harsh environment.
However, that’s not the whole picture of the dissemination of information about physician burnout. Let’s briefly look behind the iron curtain of the media’s interests in presenting information about the subject. How does the press affect readers’ perception of reality on the topic? Moreover, is this a topic that should receive so much publicity?
Misalignment Of Media Interests
Sometimes the goals of media and the public good align. And, other times they butt heads. It’s not all altruism. And let me explain why.
In general, what is the goal of the media? It is to increase readership. And how does the press increase readership? By addressing emotionally charged issues. And, what can emotionally charge the public more than seeing how your physician is so stressed that she can no longer function appropriately?
Any subject matter that induces an emotional reaction from the reader can sell lots of journals, papers, and all sorts of electronic media consumption. This positive bias from all types of media affects not only the articles they write but also the surveys they create and the interviews they get with physicians. If you are interviewed or surveyed, you are far more likely to say you are experiencing burnout if someone asks you a leading question than if they ask you the same thing in a different way. And, they have every incentive to do so. It’s their livelihood. Now, these facts may be real to an extent. But, they may also overemphasize the problem to a degree beyond the truth.
Not only can the increased emphasis of media on burnout overstate the problems and issues associated with the condition, but it also leads to the #Me Too dilemma. If you see 20 articles on the same topic within any given month, you are more likely to associate the features of burnout with your situation. Now, this may not be your reality. But, the subtle psychological hints of repeated media stimuli can influence your perception of whether you have burnout.
Burnout: A Real Epidemic Or Pure Perception?
Like always, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. I know the condition does exist. And, I am aware that some physicians that I know meet the criteria for burnout. But when you read your next article on burnout, be mindful of the biases that lead the author to make their assessment of the degree of the problem within the physician population. There may be a hint of truth to their views, but it may not be to the extent you assume. That said, I’m feeling a bit of burnout after writing this article. Time to go back to sleep! (Written at 3 am)