Medscape: The specialties with the most—and the least—burnout

ED physicians face more burn out than their peers

Topics: Employee Engagement, Workforce, Employee Communication, Employee Recognition, Employee Satisfaction, Productivity, Recruitment and Retention, Physician Issues

April 4, 2013

A new Medscape Medical News survey finds that emergency care physicians experience more burnout than physicians in any other specialty—and they list bureaucratic tasks and long hours as their biggest stressors.

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For the 2013 Physician Lifestyle Report, Medscape surveyed more than 24,000 U.S. physicians across 24 specialties to determine which physicians suffer from the most burnout and how that burnout impacted their lives.  

Medscape defined burnout as a "loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment." Overall, nearly 40% of the survey participants said they are suffering from burnout.

The physicians suffering from the most burnout

The seven physician specialties reporting the most burnout were:

    1. Emergency medicine (51%)
    2. Critical care (50%)
    3. Family medicine (43%)
    4. Anesthesiology (42%)
    4. General surgery (42%)
    4. Internal medicine (42%)
    4. OBGYN & women's services (42%)

The two most burned out physician specialties deal with the most severely ill patients, but burned out physicians did not consider worry for patients as a top factor in their burnout. Instead, physicians said their top triggers are "too many bureaucratic tasks," "spending too many hours at work," and the "present and future impact of the Affordable Care Act" (ACA).

In addition, researchers found that women (45%) tended to be more burned out than men (37%), and doctors in the 46-55 age group were suffering from the most burnout.

The physicians suffering from the least burnout

Meanwhile, the seven least burned out physician specialties were:

    1. Pathology (32%)
    2. Psychiatry (33%)
    3. Ophthalmology (35%)
    3. Pediatrics (35%)
    3. Rheumatology (35%)
    6. Dermatology (36%)
    6. Radiology (36%)

Burned out physicians take fewer vacation days, are less satisfied

The survey revealed that drinking, smoking, and exercising habits were about the same among physicians regardless of burnout levels.

However, about 40% of burned out physicians take two weeks or less of vacation per year, compared with 25% of their happier peers. And only 17% of burned out physicians take four or more weeks of vacation a year, compared with 26% of their non-burned out peers.

Medscape notes that it "comes as no surprise that when asked to score their happiness at work from 1 (very unhappy) to 7 (very happy), burned out physicians … gave a very low score." Overall, burned out physicians rated their job satisfaction a 3.53, compared with 5.38 for physicians who were not burned out (Peckham et al., Medscape report, 3/28; Peckham, Medscape Medical News, 3/27).

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