Nearly a Third of Early-Career Pediatricians Report Burnout

Marcia Frellick

March 29, 2016

A survey of 840 pediatricians in the first decade of their careers found that 30% reported burnout and fewer than half (43%) reported a satisfying work–life balance.

Results from the survey were published online March 28 in Pediatrics.

Amy J. Starmer, MD, MPH, from the Division of General Pediatrics, Department of Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Massachusetts, and colleagues analyzed 2013 survey data of pediatricians who graduated residency between 2002 and 2004 to quantify four factors: work–life balance, burnout at work, career satisfaction, and life satisfaction. All factors were assessed on a 5-point scale.

Despite the work–life balance deficiencies and burnout, most participants reported overall career (83%) and life (71%) satisfaction.

Factors that helped career satisfaction were excellent or very good self-reported health, working for at least 4 years in the same position, personal support from physician colleagues, autonomy in decision-making, and adequate resources to treat patients.

In this survey, most respondents agreed they had good or excellent health (71.3%), had autonomy in clinical decision-making (82.4%), had adequate resources for patient care (68.3%), and worked fewer than 50 hours a week (58.2%).

Pediatricians who reported they work in a hectic or chaotic work setting had five times the odds of feeling burned out (odds ratio, 5.18; 95% confidence interval, 2.58 - 10.38) in a multivariate analysis.

Factors most heavily affecting life satisfaction were recent negative life events, not getting enough sleep, and feeling sad or depressed.

Pediatrics Has Specific Variables

In Medscape's 2015 Pediatrician Lifestyle Report, 44% of pediatricians, regardless of career position, reported being burned out compared with critical care specialists at the high end of the scale (53%) and dermatologists on the low end (37%).

Studies of early career burnout have tended to lump physician specialties together, yet pediatricians have specific demographics, such as a preponderance of female physicians with young children and lower incomes, that warrant separate study, the authors write.

"[E]arly career pediatricians are especially vulnerable because they experience multiple transitions personally (such as having new children) and professionally (including new jobs after training)," the authors write.

Importantly, a factor that cannot be modified — race — and having children were not linked with more burnout, work–life struggles, or dissatisfaction with life or career.

However, women were slightly less likely than men to report good work–life balance (42.9% vs 44.1%) and less likely to report career satisfaction (79.1% vs 88.0%).

Researchers examined data from the American Academy of Pediatrics Pediatrician Life and Career Experience Study (PLACES), a longitudinal study started in 2012 that collects data from early-career pediatricians.

A limitation of the study is that the data are self-reported, so it is not known whether those who are more burned out are less likely to complete the survey, but authors say the alternative hypothesis is that they may be more motivated to complete it, given the relevance to their lives. Participants who completed the survey received a $20 Amazon.com gift card.

Another limitation is that the measure of burnout was limited to a single item in the burnout scale.

Pressures Will Increase

The authors note that high rates of documented burnout among physicians, increasing patient complexity, and increased use of electronic health technology will call for more strategies to avoid the burnout that can threaten optimal care for patients.

Given the reasons reported for career satisfaction, the authors say the next step is examining how targeting interventions that improve personal health, peer support, and clinical resources might lead to decreasing burnout.

This study was supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Pediatrics. Published online March 28, 2016. Abstract

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