Carol Peckham


March 27, 2013

In This Article

Which Physicians Are Most Burned Out?

Results from a national survey reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012 indicated that US physicians suffer from more burnout than other American workers.[1] Burnout, in this report, was defined by loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment; 45.8% of responding physicians had at least 1 of these symptoms.

Given these discouraging findings, the 2013 Medscape physician lifestyle survey focused on burnout and whether life outside a physician's practice influenced or was influenced by this manifestation of professional stress. Medscape members were presented with the same criteria as in the Archives survey, and their response was nearly as discouraging: 39.8% of all physicians who responded indicated that they were burned out. This rate was higher or lower depending on the specialty (Figure 1).

The 2 specialties with the highest percentage of burnout (about 50%) were those that dealt with severely ill patients: emergency medicine and critical care. Within the top 7 were family medicine (43%) and obstetrics/gynecology, internal medicine, general surgery, and anesthesiology (all 42%). In a Medscape Medical News interview, Paul Griner, MD, the author of The Power of Patient Stories: Learning Moments in Medicine, summed up some of the reasons for the high burnout rate among generalists[2]:

"These are the physicians who are on the firing line of first contact with patients, and as such, they must be readily available. The brunt of paperwork, regulation, and hassle from health insurance companies falls upon these physicians and their staffs, and primary care physicians are less well paid than their subspecialty colleagues, yet they work longer hours. The combination of these factors helps explain why burnout is more common among these specialties."

Exceptions were the pediatrician respondents, also generalists, who were among the least burned-out physicians at 35%, along with rheumatologists (35%), psychiatrists (33%), and pathologists (32%).

Figure 1. Percentage of burned-out physicians.