Bias, Burnout, Race: What Physicians Told Us About the Issues

Carol Peckham


January 10, 2017

In This Article


In this year's Medscape Lifestyle Report, we found some interesting observations, ones we will look forward to re-examining in 2017.

The Gender Difference Among Non-white Physicians

Although white/Caucasian males continue to greatly outnumber their female peers in the field of medicine, this is not the case among black/African Americans, where two thirds of physicians are women. And although in most Asian subgroups men still are the dominant gender, this is shifting, according to the AAMC, with non-white women outnumbering men among young physicians by 53% to 48%.[2]

The Current State of Burnout

Burnout continues to be a serious threat to physician well-being and, therefore, to patient care. Over half of physicians (51%) suffer from this condition, up from 40% in 2013, the first year that Medscape surveyed the issue. Burnout rates among racial or ethnic groups were reported within a tight range (46% to 56%), underscoring that this is a phenomenon that affects all physicians. Looking at the major groups, black/African American and Hispanic/Latino physicians report only slightly lower burnout percentages (48% and 51%, respectively) than their white/Caucasian peers (52%).

This year's report shows a pronounced association between burnout and physicians' happiness at work and outside of work. On average, 59% of physicians with no burnout claimed to be very or extremely happy at work, compared with a dismal 7% of their burned-out peers, more than an eightfold difference. This relationship continued when they left work, with nearly three quarters (74%) of non-burned-out versus 48% of burned-out physicians reporting being very or extremely happy outside the workplace.

Some association was observed between burnout and debt. Less than a quarter (24%) of burned-out physicians were debt-free compared with about a third (32%) of their non-burned-out peers. And of those who had debt, 12% of burned-out physicians described it as unmanageable compared with only 5% of their non-burned-out colleagues.

Physician Bias

Half of physicians who responded to the Medscape survey admitted bias toward some patients. We asked this group to characterize specific biases.

More than half (51%) of male physicians, compared with 42% of female physicians, cited overweight as a patient factor that elicited bias. Emotional problems in patients were cited most frequently by female respondents (51%), nearly matched by their male counterparts (50%). Although only 16% admitted that their biases affected treatment, it is difficult to cull out the effects of implicit bias as a factor that could influence patient care, for better or worse, among different groups.

Bias among racial/ethnic groups ranged from a high of 63% among Korean physicians to a low of 34% among Asian Indian physicians. Well over half of black/African American physicians (56%) admitted to bias compared with a slightly lower 53% of white/Caucasian and 52% of Hispanic/Latino doctors.

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