Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The number of physicians who report feeling burned out is falling, but still remains higher than previous decades, a new study shows.
Burnout symptoms decreased for physicians in 2017 to 44 percent versus 54 percent in 2014, new findings published Friday in Mayo Clinic Proceedings show.
Work-life satisfaction was 43 percent in 2017, as well.
"Physicians remain at increased risk for burnout relative to workers in other fields, but there is some good news," Tait Shanafelt, director of the WellMD Center at Stanford University and study author, said in a news release. "For the first time, we're seeing improvement in the prevalence of burnout symptoms in physicians nationally."
The current study is the third in a series of national research on the topic. Prior studies conducted in 2011 and 2014 showed levels of burnout continuing to increase -- unlike the new one.
Still, the burnout rate remains high and is causing some physicians to leave the profession. By 2030, the Association of American Medical Colleges says that the U.S. may have a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians.
The researchers attribute the feelings of burnout to having a heavy workload and spending more time on paperwork than expected.
"Anytime a study came out on physician burnout, people would say, 'Well that's true for all workers. Everybody is stressed out; doctors are no different,'" Shanafelt said. "There was a need for an ongoing, nationwide study that would compare physicians with other workers in the United States."
The 2011 study showed that nearly 46 percent of physicians had symptoms of burnout.
Over the three studies, symptoms of depression among doctors increased slightly, from 38.2 percent in 2011, 39.8 percent in 2014 and 41.7 percent in 2017.
This puts doctors at greater risk for suicide. The overall suicide risk for physicians is higher than other professions, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
And even with the recent fall of burnout numbers in 2017, the burnout rate for certain specialties, like general surgery and obstetrics and gynecology, didn't show significant reduction during that time.
"Over the last couple of years, we have begun to think about the well-being of health care professionals through the lens of the system and practice environment rather than through the lens of personal resilience," Shanafelt said.
"There are now large-scale national efforts, as well as efforts at the institutional level in many organizations, to reduce physician burnout and promote physician well-being. We can't say for certain, but it's looking like those efforts may be starting to make a difference," she added.