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Asia Pac Fam Med. 2018 Feb 8;17:3. doi: 10.1186/s12930-018-0040-3. eCollection 2018.

A systematic review of burnout among doctors in China: a cultural perspective.

Author information

1University Health Service, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China.
2Department of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China.
3The Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
WONCA World Executive Council, Hong Kong, China.



Numerous studies around the world has already suggested that burnout among doctors is a global phenomenon. However, studies for burnout in doctors are relatively limited in Chinese communities when compared to the West. As risk factors, barriers to intervention and strategies combatting burnout in different parts of the world can vary a lot due to different social culture and healthcare system, study with a focus at doctors in China from a cultural perspective is a worthful endeavor.


Systematic searches of databases were conducted for papers published in peer-reviewed journals from 2006 to 2016. Selection criteria included practicing doctors in Mainland China and publications written in English or Chinese. Keywords searched including "burnout", "doctors" and "China" in 3 electronic databases has been undergone. Traditional understanding of "work attitude" and "doctors' humanity" from ancient Chinese literature has also been retrieved.


Eleven full papers, including 9302 participants, were included in this review. The overall prevalence of burnout symptoms among doctors in China ranged from 66.5 to 87.8%. The review suggested that negative impact of burnout include association with anxiety symptoms and low job satisfaction at the individual doctors' level, and prone to committing medical mistakes affecting patient safety and higher turnover intention at the society/organizational level. Burnout was higher among doctors who worked over 40 h/week, working in tertiary hospitals, on younger age group within the profession (at age 30-40), and with negative individual perception to work and life.

Conclusions and implications:

The overall prevalence and adverse impact of burnout among doctors in China echo with the findings from Western studies. Young doctors and doctors working in tertiary hospitals are more at risk of burnout, probably related to shift of social culture related to the loss of medical humanities and a weak primary healthcare system. Potential strategies of managing burnout in Chinese doctors should therefore take consideration from the Chinese cultural perspective, with renaissance of medical humanities and strengthening the primary healthcare system in China.

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