Examinations of the current state of the physician workforce, in the United States and globally, indicate a declining overall well-being, and specifically increasing levels of burnout. The consequences of these effects include early retirements or exits from the medical profession, difficulties improving the patient experience, and low levels of provider engagement with clinic-level and system-level initiatives. Such consequences affect physicians, healthcare organizations, and patients. While most research has focused on identifying burnout, cataloging its effects, and creating a case for attending to its impact, relatively few studies have focused on exploring the antecedents of burnout for physicians. The goal of this study was to test an etiological model, the Areas of Worklife Scale (AWS), for practicing primary care physicians.
Using the AWS and the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the study used a longitudinal survey research design method to query primary care physicians employed at a large integrated delivery system in the United States. Data collected successfully fit the AWS model for burnout among primary care physicians, supporting our theory that workplace drivers are responsible for burnout. Workload, control, and values congruence are the largest drivers of burnout for practicing primary care physicians. The AWS model provides key insights into the domains of work that cause stress and ultimately burnout for physicians, and these domains can guide physicians and managers to develop interventions to fight the rising incidence of burnout.