Physician Burnout: It Just Keeps Getting Worse

Carol Peckham


January 26, 2015

In This Article

Gender and Burnout

National surveys have reported that female physicians have a 60% higher burnout rate vs their male peers.[6] The Medscape report supports these findings, though our findings were of a lower order of magnitude. More female physicians (51%) reported burnout than males (43%), and both genders had higher rates than in the 2013 report (45% in women and 37% in men). This was not consistent among all specialists and even between the two major primary care groups. Among internists and as with most physicians, women had higher burnout rates this year than did men (55% and 47%, respectively) and both rates were higher than those reported in the 2013 survey (50% and 39%). Among family physicians this year, as with internists, more women than men reported burnout (56% and 47%). However, unlike internists, both female and male family physicians had lower burnout rates this year than in 2013 (60% and 52%). A similar trend was observed in female pediatricians, psychiatrists, and emergency medicine physicians, with women reporting higher burnout rates than men this year, though lower than in 2013. Comparing female and male burnout among specialties just for this year (Figure 6), women on the front line—critical care (61%) and emergency medicine (58%)—and in the generalist specialties of family medicine (56%), ob/gyn (55%), and internal medicine (55%) experienced rates of burnout within the top ten. Of interest, however, female urologists (67%) and orthopedists (61%) were the top two most burned out.

Figure 6.

Burnout by gender and specialty.

One study of European PCPs examined burnout as a process that develops over time in men and women. Using burnout criteria—defined as loss of enthusiasm for work (ie, depletion of emotional resources), depersonalization (includes negativity and cynicism), and a low sense of personal accomplishment—the researchers sought to determine whether the burnout process might be started by one of these criteria rather than another and lead to the rest.[3] The results suggested that the burnout process may differ by gender; the onset of burnout in men tended to be characterized by depersonalization, while emotional exhaustion was more likely to herald the onset of burnout in women. The authors suggested that more men with burnout first use depersonalization as a coping strategy for stressful work situations, but it isn't effective in the long run because emotional exhaustion tended to follow. Women, on the other hand, tend to cope more than men do by emotionally focusing on stressful issues, which then leads to emotional exhaustion, followed by depersonalization. Negative interactions with people at work and with family might also affect women more than men as well. In this study, a reduced sense of personal accomplishment did not seem to be associated with burnout, at least in men.


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