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career as a physician has traditionally been considered to be among the best vocations that talented students can pursue. That may no longer be the case. All too many doctors report that they are unhappy, frustrated and even prepared to leave the profession. That should worry all of us. The physician burnout crisis is likely to affect our quality of care and our access to health care providers.

According to a recent study, 44% of U.S. doctors suffered at least one symptom of burnout, and some studies have identified even higher burnout rates. By contrast, researchers have found only a 28% burnout rate in the general working population.

In a forthcoming academic article, I argue that physician burnout is as much a legal problem as it is a medical one. Many laws and regulations protect the health and welfare of American workers. This is particularly true when public safety depends on those jobs. Regulations limit the work hours of air traffic controllerspilotsflight attendants and other transportation workers so they are well rested on the job.

Likewise, physicians have safety-critical jobs because patients routinely put their lives in doctors’ hands. That’s why I believe policymakers must turn their attention to the needs of doctors.

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