Burned Out? An Expert Explains How to Know and What to Do About It

John C. Hayes; Peter S. Moskowitz, MD


November 29, 2012

In This Article

Who Avoids Burnout?

Medscape: Certainly, there are a lot of people who get into relatively stressful situations but avoid burnout. What are their characteristics?

Dr. Moskowitz: We know that among high-performing professionals, burnout is prevalent and the numbers over time have been fairly consistent. When I started to do this work, what numbers were available suggested that about 30% of physicians had symptoms of burnout, and over the course of time those numbers have stayed relatively constant. Various studies have shown the incidence to be somewhere between 30% and 50% across specialties.

Those who avoid burnout tend to have many interests unrelated to their professional lives.

I don't know whether professionals who are not burned out have been studied in a scientific way, so my comments are anecdotal, but certain characteristics do stand out. One is the ability to balance their private and professional lives. They tend to have many interests unrelated to their professional lives, so that on nights and on weekends they can be engaged in activities outside of medicine. They also tend to know how to take care of their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

A third characteristic is that they are able to maintain plenty of connections to other people. They have lots of friends, and they have good marriages; both of those things insulate them from burnout. A fourth characteristic is participating in hobby groups or sports groups that provide opportunities for fulfillment and satisfaction outside of their medical career.

Medscape: You've given me some statistics on physicians in general who suffer from burnout. Is it any different for radiology in particular?

Dr. Moskowitz: The data are relatively scarce. One number comes from Archives of Internal Medicine, which recently published a general study of burnout in physicians.[2] It reported that nearly 50% of radiologists surveyed had at least 1 symptom of burnout.

Certainly, having 1 symptom of burnout is not the same as being unable to work or being clinically depressed as a result of severe burnout. But working in this field and being a radiologist, there's no doubt that reports and concerns about burnout have become significantly more common over the past 3 to 5 years.