Ophthalmologists Report Less Burnout Than Other Specialists

Neil Osterweil

March 28, 2013

As physicians go, ophthalmologists are a fairly mellow bunch. Still, more than 30% of eye docs responding to the 2013 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report say they have lost their zest for their work, feel cynical, and/or suffer from a low sense of personal accomplishment — all classic signs of burnout.

In terms of burnout, ophthalmologists rank 22nd out of 24 specialities, with only 35% reporting burnout, compared with more than half of all emergency medicine physicians, and fully half of all critical care specialists.

Even dermatologists, a group not known for working in high-pressure clinical situations, report a higher degree of burnout than ophthalmologists, whose stress quotient is similar to that of rheumatologists, pediatricians, and psychiatrists/mental health workers. Only pathologists chill out more and worry less, the data suggest.

Ophthalmologists also ranked at the bottom of the list for burnout severity, with a mean score of 3.4 on a scale of 1 ("does not interfere with my life") to 7 ("so severe that I'm thinking of leaving medicine altogether").

But like their colleagues in other disciplines, ophthalmologists chafe at (in descending order of stressor severity) having to do too many bureaucratic tasks, coping with the Affordable Care Act, not getting paid enough, spending too much time at work, computerizing their practices, feeling like just another cog in a wheel, lack of fulfilment, and too many difficult patients. Ophthalmologists also complain, although to a lesser degree, of an inability to provide patients with the quality of care they need, troublesome staff or colleagues, compassion fatigue, and coping with difficult employees.

Female ophthalmologists were nearly twice as likely as their male colleagues to report burnout, 64% to 34%, and middle-aged practitioners (aged 46 to 55 years) were more likely to report burnout than other age groups.

Asked to rate their favorite pastimes, burned-out and nonburned-out ocular specialists alike reported spending time with family as most important, followed by exercise/physical activity, travel, reading, cultural events, food and wine, Web surfing, and gardening. More burned-out ophthalmologists turn to music for succor, but, contrary to stereotype, only 16% of both burned-out and blissful eye docs head to the golf links for recreational relief.

For vacation, a slight majority opt for warmer climes and beach vacations, and about half choose foreign destinations. Road trips, "staycations" (at-home vacations), and luxury spas/hotels are the next most popular options.

When it comes to self-perceptions of health, burned-out ophthalmologists were slightly less sanguine, reporting their physical health as a mean of 5.4 on a poor-to-extremely-healthy scale, compared with 5.9 for their more content colleagues.

Alcohol use or abuse does not seem to be a problem for the eye-care crowd, with 25% of burned-out and 26% of nonburned-out ophthalmologists reporting being abstemious, and 56% and 53%, respectively, reporting that they quaff fewer than 1 potent potable per day.