Burnout Might Really Be Depression; How Do Doctors Cope?

Leigh Page


January 17, 2018

In This Article

Causes and Remedies for Burnout

Respondents who reported burnout could select more than one contributing factor. The factors most often mentioned were: too many bureaucratic tasks (56%); spending too many hours at work (39%); lack of respect from administrators/employers, colleagues, or staff (26%); and increasing computerization of practice (24%).

"You can't see a lot of patients and still be resilient," Dr Myers says. "It wears physicians down."

When asked what would reduce their burnout, 35% of respondents said more income to avoid financial stress, 31% wanted a more manageable schedule/call hours, and 27% cited having fewer regulations.

"Making more money isn't the solution to mental health conditions," Dr Wible says, but she does note that financial problems like high student debt can contribute to doctors' anxieties.

Still, it's noteworthy that many physicians reported that they do not experience burnout. What are they doing differently? How do they manage?

Medscape asked physicians who did not report burnout to describe how they averted work-related stress. Most often, these respondents said they maintain a positive attitude about work, strive to manage their expectations, and try to balance their work and home lives. Some, however, are just lucky—they have flexible schedules, supportive colleagues, and/or a good workplace environment.

Organizations Tackle Burnout

As burnout becomes more widely recognized, many organizations have started programs to help physicians deal with stress and burnout, although many others still have not.

Medscape's survey report found that 61% of respondents in academic, research, military, or government facilities said their organizations had prevention programs, compared with 58% in healthcare organizations, 45% in hospitals, and 31% in office-based multispecialty practices or outpatient clinics.

Despite the heightened attention, "some leaders of healthcare organizations still do not yet have a deep understanding of the impact of burnout on the organization," says William J. Maples, MD, executive director of the Institute for Healthcare Excellence in Omaha, Nebraska, which advises hospitals and other organizations on achieving healthcare excellence.

One effective way to reduce burnout, Dr Maples says, is to improve communication within clinical teams. When information is not shared among team members, stress levels rise, he says. Improving communication also improves efficiency, he adds.

Doctors Are Happy Outside of Work

In contrast to high rates of burnout at work, about three quarters of physicians said they are happy outside of work, according to Medscape's Lifestyle & Happiness Report 2018.

In this survey, 50% of physicians said they were either extremely happy (12%) or very happy (38%). About another quarter (26%) said they were somewhat happy outside of work. Only 10% said they were either extremely (3%) or very (7%) unhappy outside of work.

Specialties with the highest rates of happiness outside of work were allergists (61%), dermatologists (58%), emergency physicians (58%), and ophthalmologists (58%).

Least happy were cardiologists (40%), public health physicians (41%), and oncologists (42%). Meanwhile, less than half (44%) of both internists and infectious disease physicians said they were happy outside of work.


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