Even before the onset of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, physician assistants (PAs) were suffering from work-related burnout. A national survey of  PAs found that >40% had burnout, specifically those working in emergency medicine and those who felt unsatisfied with control over workload. Compared with US workers, PAs were more likely to experience burnout, but they reported better work-life integration. Results from the survey were published in the Journal of the American Academy of PAs.

A total of 2031 PAs were invited to participate in the anonymous survey.  In addition, a randomized selection of US workers were contacted through telephone or paper mail to participate in the survey. Both the PA and worker surveys included questions about demographics, burnout, work hours, and work-life balance. The PA survey also included specific questions about parental status, practice characteristics, specialty area worked, satisfaction with autonomy and with collaborating physician(s), and control over workload.

A total of 600 of the 2031 PAs responded to the survey (29.5%); 68.5% were women and the mean age was 45.6 years. Most respondents were married (77.9%) and had children (78.5%). Responders worked an average of 38.9 hours per week and had 16.1 years of clinician experience.

When assessed using the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), 30.5% of PAs responded that they had high emotional exhaustion, 24.5% had high depersonalization, and 2% had low sense of personal accomplishment. Overall, 41.4% were considered to have substantial symptoms of burnout. Compared with workers, PAs were more likely to have high depersonalization (19.3% vs 13.5%) and overall burnout (35.5% vs 28.0%) than other workers.

Nearly two-thirds of PAs (65.3%), however, were satisfied with their work-life integration. The vast majority of PAs were satisfied with their autonomy (91.5%) and with their collaborating physician(s) (89.3%).

A statistically significant association was found between the prevalence of high emotional exhaustion and work hours. Similarly, the prevalence of satisfaction with work-life integration decreased as work hours increased. Differences were found in the prevalence of burnout across specialties, with those working in emergency medicine appearing at higher risk. PAs who had children were less likely to have burnout.

Compared with other US workers, PAs worked a median of 2 hours more work per week than other workers (42.8 hours vs 40.2 hours). No statistically significant difference was found in satisfaction with work-life integration between PAs and other US workers.

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“Given the well-documented implications of burnout among healthcare professionals, research is needed to further understand contributing factors that can inform much needed intervention research to support PA well-being,” concluded the authors.

Reference

Dyrbye LN, West CP, Halasy M, OʼLaughlin DJ, Satele D, Shanafelt T. Burnout and satisfaction with work-life integration among PAs relative to other workers. JAAPA. 2020;33(5):35-44.