Ob/Gyns Report High Levels of Burnout

Norra MacReady

March 29, 2013

More than 40% of ob/gyns report some degree of burnout, according to the 2013 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report . The report, a survey of physicians in 24 specialties, examines the links between work burnout and physicians' lives outside of practice. Symptoms of burnout include feeling cynical, loss of enthusiasm for work, and a dwindling sense of personal accomplishment.

A total of 1158 ob/gyns responded, with 487 (42%) saying they suffered from burnout, worse than every other specialty with the exception of emergency medicine, critical care, and family physicians. But when it came to rating their burnout severity, ob/gyns "had the dubious distinction of ranking first, with a mean severity score of 4.1, with 1 = burnout that does not interfere with their lives and 7 = so severe that they are thinking of leaving medicine altogether," the report says.

Ob/Gyns listed bureaucratic tasks, long work hours, insufficient income, the impact of the Affordable Care Act, and "feeling like just a cog in the wheel" as the top 5 causes of burnout.

However, in a "word cloud" created from the write-in answers physicians gave in response to a question about their worst stressors, "[T]he word 'patients' is most prominent, suggesting that this relationship is key to physician burnout."

Burned-out and non-burned-out physicians alike enjoyed the same leisure activities: family time, exercise and physical activity, travel, reading, cultural events, and food and wine received identical ratings from both groups as their favorite ways of spending time away from work.

An important difference did emerge, however, in the amount of time spent pursuing those activities: 37% of the burned-out ob/gyns said they took fewer than 2 weeks of vacation annually, compared with only 25% of the doctors who reported no burnout.

Both groups rated exercise high on their list of pastimes, but only 53% of the burned-out group reported exercising at least twice a week, compared with 67% of their less-stressed peers, and 41% said they exercised once a week at most, compared with 28% of the non-burned-out ob/gyns.

When asked to rate their health overall on a scale of 1 (poor health) to 7 (extremely healthy), the burned-out ob/gyns had a mean score of 5.1, about 10% lower than their colleagues' score of 5.7.

Interestingly, the burned-out doctors appear to drink alcohol slightly less frequently than their happier peers, with 2% saying they consume 2 or more drinks a day, compared with 3% of their colleagues. Fifty-seven percent of the burned-out physicians and 53% of those who were not burned out reported drinking less than 1 drink per day.

Financial pressure might explain some of the burnout: 56% of those ob/gyns reported having savings that were at least adequate for their age group and professional stage, compared with 69% of their less-stressed peers. Similarly, 9% of the burned-out physicians said they had no savings and unmanageable debt, vs 4% of their peers.

One way doctors can fight burnout, the survey's authors suggest, is to participate in health reforms designed to return more control to them and their patients, such as payment for value and more patient participation when it comes to making decisions about care.

2013 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report .