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Physicians struggle with their own self-care, survey finds

Most doctors acknowledge the importance of self-care but are falling short of achieving it, likely exacerbating the burnout epidemic.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Despite believing that self-care is a vitally important part of health and overall well-being, many physicians overlook their own self-care, according to a new survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Samueli Integrative Health Programs. Lack of time, job demands, family demands, being too tired and burnout are the most common reasons for not practicing their desired amount of self-care.

The authors said that while most doctors acknowledge the physical, mental and social importance of self-care, many are falling short, perhaps contributing to the epidemic of physician burnout currently permating the nation's healthcare system.


The survey -- involving more than 300 family medicine and internal medicine physicians as well as more than 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older -- found that although 80 percent of physicians say practicing self-care is "very important" to them personally, only 57 percent practice it "often" and about one-third (36%) do so only "sometimes."

Lack of time is the primary reason physicians say they aren't able to practice their desired amount of self-care (72%). Other barriers include mounting job demands (59%) and burnout (25%). Additionally, almost half of physicians (45%) say family demands interfere with their ability to practice self-care, and 20 percent say they feel guilty taking time for themselves.

However, nearly all physicians (98%) believe self-care positively impacts mental health and 97 percent believe it has a positive impact on physical health. Further, about 9 in 10 physicians (96%) agree that self-care should be considered an essential part of overall health.

When physicians do engage in self-care, 87 percent say it is to maintain or improve their physical health, 83 percent to reduce stress and 82 percent to maintain or improve their mental health. Common self-care practices among physicians include exercise (83%), eating healthy foods (81%), maintaining healthy relationships (77%), working on personal development (76%), engaging in stress relief activities like reading or meditating (70%) and getting enough sleep (70%).


Burnout has been a growing problem for physicians for years now, driven in part by factors such as temperamental electronic health records and a shortage of skilled professionals relative to the number of patients.

But in February came some good news: The epidemic levels of physicians reporting burnout dropped modestly in 2017, at least according to research from the Stanford University School of Medicine, the Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association.


"Physicians are under an exorbitant amount of stress," said Wayne Jonas, MD, executive director of Samueli Integrative Health Programs. "The way that our health system is set up requires physicians to spend more time on administrative duties and less time with patients and themselves. This mounting pressure on physicians will only get worse. We need to fix the system to allow physicians breathing room to care for themselves as much as they care for their patients."

Twitter: @JELagasse

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