Burnout is an individual’s specific, personal, and intimate stress reaction to the workplace, characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced self-efficacy. Even though it particularly affects the helping professions, there has been relatively little exploration into the causes and determinants of burnout among physicians; instead, the focus has been on documenting the prevalence and consequences of physician burnout. Furthermore, while the theory of burnout is based on the relationship between the individual and his or her workplace, interventions have focused on improving the resilience of an individual to withstand this imbalance rather than identifying and ameliorating the cause.
This study observed a natural experiment to measure changes in primary care providers’ burnout before and after the implementation of a workload intervention that changed the work process within primary care clinics. Four clinics received the intervention, while four others served as comparisons. Among physicians in clinics receiving the intervention, the results show significant impacts, with an improvement in workload of 0.61 units (p = 0.037) and a decrease in the emotional exhaustion dimension of burnout of 6.989 units (p = 0.039).
Self-care interventions are inconsistent with the theory of burnout; success of such interventions may be due to participants self-selecting these interventions, and individuals’ inability to change their workplace without management approval. Leaders need to consider the impact of the workplace itself on physicians, in addition to results or outcomes.