A new Medscape report finds that nearly two-thirds of U.S. physicians feel burned out, depressed, or both, with higher rates reported among women and mid-career physicians.
Based on the responses of more than 15,000 practicing physicians from 29 specialties, the Medscape National Report on Physician Burnout and Depression found that 42 percent of physicians are burned out, 15 percent are depressed, and 14 percent are both burned out and depressed.
The report defined burnout as feelings of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, frustration or cynicism about work, and doubts about one’s experience and the value of one’s work.
Among those who are depressed, 12 percent of physicians said they “feel down,” while three percent said they experience serious depression. Most of the surveyed physicians say their depression is due to their work. In fact, a separate Medscape survey on Physician Lifestyle and Happiness found that most physicians are happy when they aren’t working.
Regarding burnout, the highest rates were found among family physicians, intensivists, internists, neurologists, and ob-gyns. The lowest rates were among plastic surgeons, dermatologists, pathologists, and ophthalmologists. Burnout rates were higher among women (48 vs. 38 percent for men) and physicians ages 45-50 (50 vs. 35 percent for younger physicians and 41 percent for those ages 55-69.)
The majority of physicians (56 percent) said that fewer bureaucratic tasks and fewer hours spent working (39 percent) would help alleviate burnout. About one-third said more money and a more manageable work schedule would make a difference.
Studies have shown a significant link between higher levels of physician burnout and lower levels of patient safety and quality of care and the new report seems to confirm this. For example, one in three depressed physicians said they are more easily exasperated by patients; 32 percent said they were less engaged with patients; and 29 percent admitted to being less friendly.
In addition, nearly 15 percent of depressed physicians admitted that their depression might lead them to make mistakes they wouldn’t normally make, and five percent linked their depression to errors they had made that could have harmed a patient.
An even greater number of physicians said that depression negatively affects their colleague relationships, with 42 percent reporting exasperation, another 42 percent indicating less engagement, and 37 percent reporting they express their frustrations in front of staff or peers.
“The Medscape Report on Physician Burnout and Depression shows that there is still much to be done to support physicians around these issues,” said Leslie Kane, M.A., senior director of Medscape’s Business of Medicine.
“Physicians are still struggling with the impact of burnout. Additionally, depression among physicians is a concern. Experts are beginning to view both conditions as interrelated, with burnout perhaps being a type of depression that physicians feel more comfortable acknowledging.”
Most physicians do not seek professional help for either burnout or depression. To cope, about half of all physicians choose healthy strategies, such as exercise and talking with family or friends. On the other hand, about one-third eat junk food, and one in five drink alcohol or binge eat.