Burnout is defined as long-term, unresolvable job stress that leads to exhaustion, difficulties with motivation, and low mood. Physicians are particularly susceptible to burnout, with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently declaring it a public health crisis.
Every year, Medscape releases both a Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report as well as a Physician Burnout & Suicide Report. (You can find our summary of the former report on our blog.)
In 2020, what were their major findings about physician burnout and suicide?
Ophthalmologists are less burned out than other physicians. However…
According to the survey, ophthalmologists suffer from less burnout than other physicians (30%), followed only by physicians who work in Public Health & Preventative Medicine (29%).
However, it’s important to keep in mind that 30% is not an insignificant number. This means that nearly one third of ophthalmologists feel stressed and unhappy about their careers.
Urologists (54%), neurologists (50%), and nephrologists (49%) are among the physicians who suffer the most burnout.
Nearly half of all physicians report experiencing burnout
Roughly half (42%) of all physicians report feeling burned out at work. While this number is still quite high, it’s down from 46% five years ago.
Previous research has found that physicians tend to experience more burnout than people in other professions.
Women report more burnout than men
Women tend to report more burnout than men, with 48% of female respondents experiencing burnout compared to 37% of male respondents.
“Harvard Business Review published some pieces on the idea that women take on more work at work,” says Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, CEO of the Medical Group Management Association in an interview with Medscape. “They take on more ‘non-promotable’ work and they carry more of the weight in collaborative work.”
Mid-career doctors are more likely to experience burnout
This year, the Medscape survey took the time to evaluate burnout’s effect on physicians across multiple generations: baby boomers (55-73 years old), Gen X (40-54 years old), and millennials (25-39 years old).
Gen X physicians reported experiencing more burnout than other groups. Roughly half of all Gen X physicians (48%) reported symptoms of burnout, compared to 39% of baby boomers and 38% of millennials.
“Mid-career is typically the time of highest burnout, which is where Gen Xers are in their career trajectories,” says Carol A. Bernstein MD, vice chair for faculty development and well-being at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The main culprit? Too many bureaucratic tasks
For all generations, the main cause of burnout is too many bureaucratic tasks, such as charting and paperwork, with 55% of all respondents citing it as a frustration. Spending too many hours at work took second place (33%) and lack of respect from administrators, employers, colleagues, and staff (32%).
“I have to catch up with charting, even at home. I’m worrying about always being behind. The pressure from my employer about not seeing enough patients is very stressful. There’s no work-life balance,” reports one gastroenterologist.
Rates of depression are consistent across generations
In some instances, burnout can lead to clinical depression, a serious condition that often increases the risk of suicide. Across generations, rates of depression were similar, although members of Gen X reported greater rates (18%) than baby boomers (16%) and millennials (15%).
Many physicians experience suicidal thoughts
Nearly a quarter of depressed physicians reported thoughts of suicide, and 1% report attempting suicide. Sadly, physicians have a significantly higher risk of dying from suicide than the general population, with an estimated 300-400 physicians lost to suicide each year, or about a doctor a day.
Physicians are less satisfied with their work life than the rest of the population
The survey found that most physicians (59%) are either extremely, very, or somewhat happy with their work life.
Unfortunately, these numbers are considerably lower than those of the general population: a recent CNBC poll found that 85% of professionals are somewhat or very satisfied with their work life.
Depression and burnout are serious issues in the physician community. At Sightpath Medical, we do what we can to make your case days as burnout-free as possible.