Endocrinologists Happiest of All Specialties, but Burnout Also High

Nancy A. Melville

February 22, 2021

The practice of endocrinology appears to be too good for the state of mind, according to a new survey that places endocrinologists at the top of a scale of medical specialties in terms of happiness outside of work, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the specialty is not without some stress, as burnout rates are still high, and anxiety about the future exceeds that of other specialties, according to results from the annual Medscape Endocrinologist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2021.

In the survey of more than 12,000 physicians and over 29 specialties, respondents shared their experiences, general mental state, lifestyle habits, and preferences both in and outside of their medical practices. 

In terms of the general question of being happy outside of work, as many as 89% of endocrinologists reported being somewhat or very happy in March 2020, prior to the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rate was the highest of all specialties, which had an overall average of 82%.

The lowest ranking among specialties at the time was infectious disease physicians, at 69%.

In subsequent responses reflecting their current happiness outside of work during the pandemic, while all specialists registered a significant decline, endocrinologists still ranked top for happiness, at 73%. The overall rate for all specialties was just 58%.

Infectious disease specialists continued to rank lowest for happiness outside of work, at just 45%. Other specialties at the bottom of the list included pulmonologists (47%), rheumatologists (49%), and intensivists (49%).

Burnout/Depression Rates Decline in Endocrinology

Despite declines in happiness during the pandemic, the rates of being burned out, or burned out as well as depressed, reported by endocrinologists in fact dropped from 46% in 2019 to 38% in 2020.

Of endocrinologists who experienced burnout, about 7 in 10 reported the burnout to be serious enough to have at least have a moderate impact on their lives, with 15% reporting severity to the degree of prompting them to leave medicine altogether.

Notably, for most endocrinologists who reported burnout, as many as 79% said it began before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and only 21% said it started afterward.

By far, the leading cause of burnout was too many bureaucratic tasks, cited by 69% of endocrinologists. In addition, 51% said burnout was caused by insufficient compensation or reimbursement; 31% cited spending too many hours at work, and 31% cited increasing computerization of practice.

Other reasons for burnout were a lack of control/autonomy (25%), lack of respect from patients (22%), stress from social distancing/societal issues related to COVID-19 (19%), and stress from treating patients with COVID-19 (12%).

Most endocrinologists said they coped with burnout using exercise (61%), talking with family members or close friends (58%), or by playing or listening to music (49%).

Sleep was listed as another key coping method (31%), followed by "isolating myself from others" (27%). And common COVID-19 coping mechanisms of eating junk food (24%), drinking alcohol (22%), and binge-eating (19%) were also used by endocrinologists.

As well, 3% of endocrinologists reported using prescription drugs to cope with burnout. None cited use of marijuana products.

Professional Care for Burnout Not Commonly Sought

Although most endocrinologists who were depressed or burned out said they did not plan to seek professional care (65%), nearly a quarter reported either currently receiving professional help (18%) or planning to do so (4%).

Reasons for not seeking care were that they could manage the stress without professional help (56%) or being too busy (36%). For 33%, the symptoms were not severe enough, and 21% reported not wanting to risk disclosure.

Of the respondents, 15% reported having thoughts of suicide but had not attempted suicide, and no respondents reported attempting suicide.

Workplace Concerns

In terms of workplace issues that are most concerning to endocrinologists, 39% reported work-life balance and 29% said compensation.

Forty-one percent of endocrinologists said they felt strongly enough about work-life balance that they would be willing to take a salary reduction to improve the situation.

As many as 84% of endocrinologists reported having some level of anxiety about their future as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a bit higher than the 77% reported in physicians overall.

About half (49%) of respondents reported taking 3-4 weeks of vacation per year, while 31% take 1-2 weeks, 10% take 5-6 weeks, and 8% take less than 1 week.

Health Maintenance

Regarding their own physical health, 23% of endocrinologists reported exercising 4-5 times a week, while 36% exercise 2-3 times a week, 17% once a week or less, and 5% said they do not exercise.

In terms of alcohol consumption, 29% reported they do not drink at all, 28% have less than one drink per week, 13% have 1-2 drinks per week, 10% have 3-4 drinks per week, and 11% have 5-6 drinks per week. The report notes the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that men should not exceed 14 drinks per week and women should not exceed 7 drinks per week.

And in terms of home life, 88% of endocrinologists reported being married, 4% live with a partner, and 3% are divorced or single. Half (50%) reported their marriages were very good, 36% have good marriages, 10% have fair marriages, 1% have poor, and 1% have very poor marriages.

Overall, 61% of respondents were men and 37% were women. They were recruited for the online survey from August 30 through November 5, 2020.

Medscape Endocrinologist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2021

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