Doctors burnout; signs, causes, treatment, and prevention

It’s no secret that doctors experience a high level of stress. But what many people may not know is the extent to which this stress can lead to burnout. Burnout can negatively affect all aspects of a doctor’s life, from their personal relationships to their career. In this post, we’ll take a look at the signs, causes, and treatment options for doctor’s burnout. In this article, we’ll discuss and evaluate the data from Medscape’s 2022 survey report on physician burnout.

Methodology of survey

13,069 physicians across 29 specialties in health care met the screening criteria and completed a 10-minute survey online. The recruitment period was from June 29, 2021, to September 26, 2021.

The most stressful types of doctors according to the data

According to the survey, emergency medicine has the highest burnout rate (60%), followed by critical care (56%). In contrast, the specialty with the lowest burnout rate is Public Health & Prevention Medicine (26%) followed by Dermatology (33%) and Pathology (35%), so if you suffer from mental health problems or you find it difficult to cope with stress these careers might be better for you.

The burnout rate increased amongst doctors

Whilst the same report from the previous year found that 42% of physicians reported burnout, in 2021 it increased to 47%. In particular, the burnout rate for emergency medicine increased from 43% to 60% this year.

The difference in burnout between men and women

Burnout increased for both men and women between 2020 and 2021. For men, the burnout rate increased from 36% in 2020 to 41% in 2021. The burnout rate for women was significantly higher for both years and increased from 51% to 56%.

The effect of COVID-19 on physician burnout

Whilst 50% of men reported being more burned out now than during the quarantine period 42% reported no difference. In contrast, 60% of women reported being more burned out now when compared to the COVID-19 period and 31% reported no difference.

Doctors describe burnout in their own words.

“I barely spend enough time with most patients, just running from one to the next; and then after work, I spend hours documenting, charting, dealing with reports. I feel like an overpaid clerk.”

“Home is just as busy and chaotic as work; I can never relax.”

“Staff calls in sick, we’re all running around trying to find things and get things done. It never ends.”

What are the most common causes of physician burnout?

According to the survey, 60% of physicians reported that having to complete too many bureaucratic tasks (eg paperwork) contributes the most to their burnout.

Interestingly the second most reported factor that caused the most burnout in doctors was a lack of respect from colleagues or staff.

Treatment for doctors’ burnout: workplace intervention programs

42% of physicians reported that their workplace offers a program to reduce stress and/or burnout. Only 11% said that they had used the services of companies, individuals, or coaches to reduce burnout.

Moral burnout

Medscape mentioned in their report that physicians often felt moral injury due to the healthcare system not being able to provide an adequate amount of patient care.

The generational difference

Graph showing burnout of physicians by age

The results from the survey seem to suggest that fewer physicians aged 45-54 (13%) fear that others are handling burnout better, compared to those under the age of 35 (22%).

Burnout by work setting

According to the data from Medscape, the burnout percentage for physicians working in outpatient clinics increased from 46% in 2020 to 58% in 2021. On the other hand, the burnout percentage increased from 40% to 48%.

How does burnout affect physicians?

Statements from real doctors:

“I have little motivation to reach out to others; my patience is decreased and my irritability has increased.”

“I’m always tired, I have trouble concentrating, no time for children, more arguments with my hubby.”

“I’m grumpy and unpleasant to be around, I don’t care about anyone anymore, I don’t care about my hobbies.”

How do physicians cope with burnout?

48% of doctors said that exercise helps them cope with work burnout. Unfortunately, 45% of physicians said that they isolate themselves from others to cope with the stress. 41% talk with family members to help them cope.

The effect of burnout on relationships

More than two-thirds of physicians reported that their relationships are affected by burnout.

The burnout rate of medical careers vs other professions

As shown in the graph above, whilst the burnout rate is 47% for doctors and 64% for nurses, many other careers have a similar amount of professionals reporting burnout.

References

Physician Burnout & Depression Report: Stress, Anxiety, and Anger (2022) https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2022-lifestyle-burnout-6014664#15

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