'Cultured' Endocrinologists Less Burned Out, but Fatter

Lisa Nainggolan

April 04, 2013

Endocrinologists are home-loving, refined individuals who rate reading, attending cultural events, travel, and partaking of good food and wine among their favorite pastimes, according to the 2013 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report, published online March 28. They tend to prefer these activities to outdoor sports such as golf, which only 9% reported as their favorite pastime, and hunting or fishing (3%).

Yet almost 40% of endocrinologists also report being burned out — defined as a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and/or a low sense of personal accomplishment — a figure similar to that reported by cardiologists and oncologists in this 24,000-physician survey. On the 7-point severity scale (where 1 indicates "does not interfere with my life," and 7 indicates "so severe that I am thinking of leaving medicine altogether"), endocrinologists had a mean score of 3.6.

Despite this, about 60% of endocrinologists said that they exercise at least twice a week — with little difference between those who were burned out and those who were not. Nevertheless, the specialty as a whole — rather surprisingly — does not fare well on the obesity scales.

As doctors who often have to counsel patients about being overweight, they reported somewhat worse body mass indexes (BMIs) than the national average. There were minimal differences between those who were burned out and those who were not; in both groups of endocrinologists, more than 40% reported a BMI of 25 or higher, which would earn them the characterization of being either overweight or obese. Only 34.5% were of normal weight

Income a Factor in Burnout

The number of endocrinologists feeling stressed out by their job was lower than the overall figure among all medical specialties, however, which stands at 46%. Emergency physicians and critical-care doctors topped the list, with at least 50% having at least 1 symptom of burnout. Pathologists, followed by psychiatrists, ophthalmologists, and rheumatologists, reported the least burnout in the survey.

Like doctors in many other specialties, the main factors cited in burnout among the 280 endocrinologists who responded to the survey were: bureaucratic tasks, long work hours, the impact of the Affordable Care Act, and insufficient income.

In fact, income seems to be a significant factor in burnout for endocrinologists. Those who said they were feeling overly stressed were more likely to have financial problems: 45% of them said that they have minimal savings or unmanageable debt, compared with 28% of their less stressed peers. And less than half of those who are burned out (48%) said that they have plenty of money put away, compared with 67% of their counterparts.

Burnout Varies by Age and Sex, but Vacation Uptake Unaffected

Also, more women endocrinologists are burned out (54%) than men (33%), which is consistent with the general physician population and may reflect the fact that many women have more conflicts between work and home, particularly if they have children.

Burnout also appears to peak at ages 36 to 45 years, with 28% of endocrinologists reporting the problem at this phase of life, compared with 23% among endocrinologists aged 46 to 65 years of age, dropping to about 8% after age 66, which could be due to retirement or a reduction in work hours.

Whether endocrinologists were burned out did not seem to markedly affect the amount of vacation they took, however, nor did it have any impact on smoking habits (86% of all endocrinologists have never smoked) or lead to much difference in drinking habits.

Medscape endocrinologists report moderate drinking habits: about 34% of burned-out doctors said that they don't drink at all, compared with 25% of less stressed physicians. But the former group scored a little higher on having more than 2 drinks per day (18% compared with 13% of their less stressed peers).

And as far as relationships go, there wasn’t much difference between burned-out endocrinologists and those who are less stressed: the majority are still on their first marriage (more than 65%), with just under 20% remarried and similar numbers divorced, separated, or living alone. Political and religious persuasions didn’t differ markedly, either, between those who feel overly stressed and those who do not.