Burnout: How cardiologists stack up against other physicians

Forty-two percent of physicians are burned out in 2020, according to Medscape’s annual National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report, and cardiologists fall in the top half of most-burned-out specialists.

More than 15,000 physicians responded to this year’s survey, around 2% of whom were cardiologists. They fell toward the middle of the burnout scale, with 44% reporting they felt exhausted, stressed or drained by their daily jobs. 

Medscape reported that burnout rates have fallen 4% over the past five years, but Yale physician Frank John Ninivaggi, MD, said in the report that the percentage of physicians who are burned out has remained “fairly consistent” in recent years. Urologists reported the most burnout in the 2020 survey—54% of the population—followed by neurologists, nephrologists and diabetes and endocrinology experts. In contrast, just 29% of public health and preventive medicine specialists said they were burned out.

This year’s poll divided physicians by generation and found that Gen X physicians report “noticeably more” burnout (48%) than their millennial (38%) and baby boomer (39%) counterparts. Most Gen Xers attributed their burnout to an excess of bureaucratic tasks, including charting and paperwork, followed by a lack of respect from colleagues and spending too many hours at work.

“Mid-career is typically the time of highest burnout, which is where Gen Xers are in their career trajectories,” Carol A. Bernstein, MD, of Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said in the report. “In addition, I suspect that group is juggling multiple roles outside of work, including caring for children as well as elderly parents, and working as well as planning for retirement. Role strain and transition periods also increase stress.”

It was boomers, though, who reported most often that burnout has a strong or severe impact on their lives (50% of respondents). Forty-six percent of Gen X physicians and 26% of millennials said the same.

The majority of physicians said they coped with burnout by isolating themselves (45%), as well as exercising (45%), talking with family members or close friends (42%), sleeping (40%) and eating junk food (33%). Twenty-four percent of specialists said they drink alcohol to manage the stress, while 20% said they binge eat, 3% reported smoking cigarettes and 2% reported using prescription drugs.

Roughly half of each group of physicians said they’d take a salary cut to reduce burnout and achieve a better work-life balance, with about one-third of each generational cohort claiming they’d give up between $10,000 and $20,000 annually for 20% fewer work hours. Two percent of millennials, 6% of Gen Xers and 6% of baby boomers said they’d be comfortable giving up more than $75,000 each year in exchange for more free time.

“Expectations of what a career as a physician is in the 2020s are changing,” Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, CEO of the Medical Group Management Association, said. “Physicians recognize that seeing a smaller number of patients may give them more time with patients and the ability to practice medicine at the height of their license, reducing non-clinical hours and enhancing personal satisfaction, which ultimately may decrease burnout and extend their career life.”