A new Medscape survey of more than 15,000 U.S. physicians found 44 percent of respondents were burned out and 15 percent reported feelings of depression.
Physician burnout is an increasingly recognized problem and encompasses feelings of exhaustion, disenchantment with the profession and a lack of personal accomplishment. Several contributors have been cited, including “Superman”-like expectations for physicians, the burden of electronic health records (EHRs), administrative tasks taking away from patient care and long work hours. Studies have shown that burnout contributes to a higher prevalence of medical errors and a higher likelihood that physicians will exhibit unprofessional behavior or leave their jobs.
Cardiology ranked 14th among Medscape’s 29 listed specialties in terms of burnout, with 43 percent of cardiologists reporting feeling burned out. Physicians in urology (54 percent) and neurology (53 percent) were the most burned out, while public health and preventive medicine (28 percent) had the lowest prevalence of the condition.
Consistent with last year’s survey results, women reported a higher burden of burnout than men. Half of female physicians said they were burned out compared to 39 percent of male doctors.
“Women are more likely to admit to psychological problems and seek help, and thus may be more likely to acknowledge burnout than their male counterparts,” Carol Bernstein, MD, a psychiatrist at NYU Langone Medical Center, said in the report. “Second, women generally acknowledge more challenges with work-life balance than do me. Childcare and family responsibilities are disproportionately assumed by women, despite increasing numbers of men who are more involved than in previous generations.”
Bureaucratic tasks such as charting and paperwork were easily the top contributor to burnout, with 59 percent of physicians reporting these responsibilities factored into their burnout. Working too many hours (34 percent) and the computerization of practice with EHRs (32 percent) were the No. 2 and No. 3 contributors, respectively.
Most participants chose positive coping mechanisms for burnout, as 48 percent said they turned to exercise and 43 percent made a point to speak with family members or close friends. But negative coping mechanisms made the list as well, including eating junk food (32 percent), drinking alcohol (23 percent) and binge eating (19 percent).
Fourteen percent of physicians surveyed said they’ve had thoughts of suicide and 1 percent said they’ve attempted suicide. Another 6 percent preferred not to answer the question.
Notably, 64 percent of respondents said they didn’t plan to seek professional help for burnout or depression and hadn’t done so in the past.
“Medical training teaches us to ‘suck it up,’ so help-seeking is not a well-honed skill among doctors,” Pamela Wible, MD, said in the report. “Because the majority of doctors are overworked, exhausted, and discontent, they’ve normalized their misery and pretend that it’s not as bad as it seems.”