Background: Extensive literature documents personal distress among physicians and a decrease in their satisfaction with the practice of medicine over recent years. We hypothesized that physicians who spent more of their time in the aspect of work that they found most meaningful would have a lower risk of burnout.
Methods: Faculty physicians in the Department of Internal Medicine at a large academic medical center were surveyed in the fall of 2007. The survey evaluated demographic variables, work characteristics, and career satisfaction. Burnout was measured using the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Additional questions evaluated which professional activity (eg, research, education, patient care, or administration) was most personally meaningful and the percentage of effort that was devoted to each activity.
Results: Of 556 physicians sampled, 465 (84%) returned surveys. A majority (68%) reported that patient care was the aspect of work that they found most meaningful, with smaller percentages reporting research (19%), education (9%), or administration (3%) as being most meaningful. Overall, 34% of faculty members met the criteria for burnout. The amount of time spent working on the most meaningful activity was strongly related to the risk of burnout. Those spending less than 20% of their time (approximately 1 d/wk) on the activity that is most meaningful to them had higher rates of burnout (53.8% vs 29.9%; P<.001). Time spent on the most meaningful activity was the largest predictor of burnout on multivariate analysis (odds ratio, 2.75; P = .001).
Conclusions: The extent to which faculty physicians are able to focus on the aspect of work that is most meaningful to them has a strong inverse relationship to their risk of burnout. Efforts to optimize career fit may promote physician satisfaction and help to reduce attrition among academic faculty physicians.