Open Access Open Badges Research

Correlates of physician burnout across regions and specialties: a meta-analysis

Raymond T Lee1*, Bosu Seo2, Steven Hladkyj3, Brenda L Lovell4 and Laura Schwartzmann5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Business Administration, University of Manitoba, 181 Freedman Crescent, Winnipeg, MB R3T 5V4, Canada

2 Economics Department, University of the Fraser Valley, 33844 King Road, Abbotsford BC V2S 7M7, Canada

3 Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, 190 Dysart Road, Winnipeg MB R3T 5V4, Canada

4 1 Glengarry Drive, Winnipeg MB R3T 2J5, Canada

5 Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de la Rep├║blica Oriental del Uruguay, Gral Flores 2125 Sede Centrale, CP 11100, Montevideo, Uruguay

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Human Resources for Health 2013, 11:48  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-11-48

Published: 28 September 2013



Health care organizations globally realize the need to address physician burnout due to its close linkages with quality of care, retention and migration. The many functions of health human resources include identifying and managing burnout risk factors for health professionals, while also promoting effective coping. Our study of physician burnout aims to show: (1) which correlates are most strongly associated with emotional exhaustion (EE) and depersonalization (DP), and (2) whether the associations vary across regions and specialties.


Meta-analysis allowed us to examine a diverse range of correlates. Our search yielded 65 samples of physicians from various regions and specialties.


EE was negatively associated with autonomy, positive work attitudes, and quality and safety culture. It was positively associated with workload, constraining organizational structure, incivility/conflicts/violence, low quality and safety standards, negative work attitudes, work-life conflict, and contributors to poor mental health. We found a similar but weaker pattern of associations for DP.

Physicians in the Americas experienced lower EE levels than physicians in Europe when quality and safety culture and career development opportunities were both strong, and when they used problem-focused coping. The former experienced higher EE levels when work-life conflict was strong and they used ineffective coping. Physicians in Europe experienced lower EE levels than physicians in the Americas with positive work attitudes. We found a similar but weaker pattern of associations for DP.

Outpatient specialties experienced higher EE levels than inpatient specialties when organization structures were constraining and contributors to poor mental health were present. The former experienced lower EE levels when autonomy was present. Inpatient specialties experienced lower EE levels than outpatient specialties with positive work attitudes. As above, we found a similar but weaker pattern of associations for DP.


Although we could not infer causality, our findings suggest: (1) that EE represents the core burnout dimension; (2) that certain individual and organizational-level correlates are associated with reduced physician burnout; (3) the benefits of directing resources where they are most needed to physicians of different regions and specialties; and (4) a call for research to link physician burnout with performance.

Physician burnout; Work engagement; Health and safety; Mental and physical well-being; Coping strategies; Health behaviors