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Are NPs & PAs Facing Burnout?

Published April 27, 2016 3:34 PM by Renee Dahring
I have been hearing the "B" word in relation to advanced practice more frequently lately and it's beginning to worry me. Not because burnout is new, it isn't, we have been talking about burnout for years, but usually in the context of how we can fill the void of physicians deciding to leave practice. In fact, if we are completely honest, physician burnout has probably indirectly been a benefit to our profession. Remember, we market ourselves as one of the solutions to the growing physician shortage.

Now we are beginning to hear the rumblings of nurse practitioner burnout. In my home state of Minnesota a bill was introduced this legislative session to fund a study of NP burnout. Observers are asking, "Is there a problem?  Are NPs leaving practice due to burnout?" The nurse practitioner who initiated the bill says we simply don't know, and according to her that is precisely the problem. Her contention is that physician burnout has been studied extensively while little attention has been paid to NP burnout. And apparently PAs must be feeling the same concerns about burnout because it didn't take long for them to successfully lobby to have PAs included in the bill.

The talk about burnout was inevitable. When we emerged as a practice we had a number of strong selling points.

We can manage most of the same conditions as physicians, but we don't cost as much! We will spend more time with our patients! Hire us; we will help grow your practice!  

And that has begun to happen. For the last couple years NPs and PAs have been named as one of the fastest growing jobs. Twenty-one states have full practice authority for NPs. We are no longer in the shadows; we have our own practices and our own patients.

There is a line from a 1968 movie in which a character warns a rising pop star band "The tragedy of *your* time, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want." The implication is that sometimes the very thing you work so hard to achieve can have unintended consequences. Of course in the movie, the group soon implodes because they failed to plan for the downside of their enormous success. 

Like the group in the movie, we focused on the benefits of being treated more like our physician colleagues and didn't consider how we might handle dealing with the same stressors that are driving MDs from practice. Turns out we aren't immune from the frustration of shorter appointment times, too many patients, overbearing insurance companies and employers who care only about patient satisfaction surveys. Pretty much everything that physicians experience, only we do it for less money. 

Yep, that's pretty much the recipe for burnout.

1 comments

I remember  as a new grad wondering  what people meant by "burnout" , but after 15 years working  with  patients I now know exactly  what they mean. It's important  to pay attention  to  stress and balance and not just the bottom  line.

Lisa Boston, Internal Med - Physician Asst., Mrs. May 4, 2016 4:42 PM
yorktown heights NY

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    Occupation: Nurse Practitioners and NP Recruiters
    Setting: correctional healthcare/career consulting/teaching
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