Burnout continues to be a pervasive problem among physicians, with over 50% now reporting feeling burned out and 23% reporting feeling depressed, according to Medscape's 2023 Physician Burnout & Depression report.
For the report, Medscape surveyed 9,175 physicians across more than 29 specialties between June 28, 2022, and Oct. 3, 2022, to assess their current feelings of burnout, stress, and more.
Overall, many physicians said COVID-19 continues to affect how they feel about their work, with 42% saying it had somewhat of an impact on their work-life happiness and 37% saying it had a significant impact.
"The impact of COVID on physician burnout will remain for years," said John Whyte, CMO at WebMD. "The focus has changed. Now it's all about helping patients catch up on all the care, especially preventive, they that missed. This is causing very busy days and long lines, which frustrates everyone."
In total, 53% of physicians said they were burned out—an increase from 47% who said the same in last year's report. Female physicians were also more likely to report feeling burned out than male physicians, at 63% and 46%, respectively.
Among the different specialties, emergency medicine physicians (65%), internal medicine physicians (60%), pediatricians (59%) were the most likely to say are burned out.
Where a physician works also affected their feelings of burnout. In particular, physicians who worked at outpatient clinics or office-based multispecialty group practices were the most likely to report feeling burned out at 57% each. Other work settings with high rates of burnout include healthcare organizations (55%) and hospitals (55%).
In general, physicians said their feelings of burnout were "pervasive and persistent," with over 60% of respondents saying they felt burned out for at least 13 months or longer. When asked about what contributes the most to their burnout, the top three responses were too many bureaucratic tasks (61%), a lack of respect from coworkers (38%), and too many work hours (37%).
In addition, over 75% of physicians said burnout has had at least a moderate impact on their life, with 43% saying that it has had a severe impact. Sixty-five percent of physicians also said that burnout has negatively affected their relationships.
"Physician burnout is a normal response to overwhelm and exhaustion in a doctor," said Dike Drummond, CEO at TheHappyMD.com. "It drives you into survival mode, head down and struggling through the chaos and overwhelm of each day, just praying you will feel better tomorrow.
"Survival mode blocks your ability to connect with people in any setting — at work and at home," Dike said. "It becomes difficult to enjoy your patients, your team, your family members, even time alone with yourself."
Twenty-three percent of physicians also reported feeling depressed—a significant increase from the 15% who said the same five years ago. Of this group, 67% said they had "colloquial depression," meaning that they were feeling down, blue, or said, while 24% said they had clinical depression that has lasted for some amount of time.
The factors that most significantly contributed to physicians' feelings of depression were burnout (64%), world events (43%), and their job (30%). Other major factors include finances, the COVID-19 pandemic, and family issues.
Although most physicians said depression had not impacted their interactions with patients, 32% said they were more easily exasperated, and 19% said they were less careful when taking patient notes due to their depression.
In general, many physicians were reluctant to seek professional help for either burnout or depression. Over 50% of physicians said they had not sought help because they believed their depression said something negative about them, and 42% said they worried other people would think less of their professional abilities.
Physicians reported several coping mechanisms for handling their burnout. Some common tactics include exercising (50%), talking with friends or family (45%), and sleeping (41%). However, around 20% of physicians said they either drink alcohol or binge eat to cope with their feelings of stress.
Physicians have also made changes at work to help alleviate their feelings of burnout. Overall, 29% of respondents said they reduced their work hours, 25% said they meditated, and 22% made workflow or staff changes.
When asked about what workplace measures would be the most helpful at reducing burnout, 45% of physicians said increased compensation, and 44% said a more manageable work schedule. Other common answers include more support staff, greater respect from colleagues, and lighter patient loads.
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