COVID Takes a Toll on Neurologists' Happiness, Well-Being

Megan Brooks

February 22, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Events of the past year have taken a huge toll on the happiness, wellness, and lifestyles of many, but especially those in the healthcare field, including neurologists.

The newly released Medscape Neurologist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2021 reveals how neurologists are coping with burnout, trying to maintain personal wellness, and how they view their workplaces and their futures amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the pandemic hit in March 2020, 79% of neurologists reported being happy outside of work, similar to the percentage (82%) of physicians overall.

However, as the pandemic has dragged on, feelings have shifted, and there are clear signs of strain on those in the healthcare field. Now, just over half (54%) of neurologists say they are happy outside of work, similar to the percentage (58%) of physicians overall.

Perhaps not surprising given the specific challenges of COVID-19, infectious disease physicians, pulmonologists, rheumatologists, and intensivists currently rank lowest in happiness outside of work.

Anxiety, Burnout, Depression

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 85% of neurologists surveyed report experiencing some degree of anxiety about their future, a somewhat greater percentage than for physicians overall (77%).

This year, the percentage of neurologists who reported being either burned out or burned out and depressed is similar to that in last year's report (47% vs 50%).

Seventy-one percent of neurologists said burnout has had at least a moderate impact on their lives; 11% consider the impact so severe that they are thinking of leaving medicine altogether.

The majority of burned-out neurologists (81%) said they felt that way even before the pandemic began; for 19%, burnout set in after the pandemic began.

The top factor contributing to burnout among neurologists is too many bureaucratic tasks (54%), followed by spending too many hours at work (41%), insufficient compensation/reimbursement (35%), and lack of respect from administrators/employers, colleagues, or staff (33%).

Neurologists' top way of coping with burnout is listening to music (50%), exercising (47%), isolating themselves from others (45%), sleeping (4%), and talking family or friends (38%); 31% said eating junk food and 23% said drinking alcohol was their top way of coping.

Most neurologists (63%) who are suffering burnout and/or depression don't plan on seeking professional help; 22% are currently seeking help or plan to do so.

The top reasons for not seeking professional help are feeling that their symptoms not severe enough (45%) and being too busy (34%); 14% don't want to risk disclosing a problem.

Among neurologists who are burned out, depressed, or both, 13% acknowledged contemplating suicide, and 1% attempted suicide (same as for physicians overall); 75% of neurologists did not have suicidal thoughts or actions, and 11% preferred not to answer this question.

The Biggest Challenge

Maintaining work-life balance is the most challenging issue for 40% of neurologists, as it is for nearly all physicians surveyed; 48% of neurologists would sacrifice some of their salary for better work-life balance, similar to physicians overall.

Other chief concerns for neurologists are compensation (20%), combining parenthood and work (13%), and career development (9%).

Forty-three percent of neurologists take 3 to 4 weeks of vacation each year; 17% take 5 or more weeks. There has been no change in these percentages from last year's report.

Only 29% of neurologists generally make time to focus on their own well-being, somewhat less than for physicians overall (35%).

About two thirds of neurologists exercise two or more times per week; 15% exercise every day, and 13% don't exercise at all. Forty-five percent of neurologists are currently trying to lose weight; 30% are trying to maintain their current weight.

More than one quarter (28%) of neurologists do not drink alcohol; 16% have five or more drinks per week.

Most neurologists are currently in a committed relationship, with 87% either married or living with a partner. Among neurologists who are married or living with a partner, 42% are with someone who also works in medicine. About 82% of neurologists say their marriages are very good or good, in line with physicians overall (85%).

Most neurologists (57%) spend up to 10 hours per week online for personal reasons; 73% spend this amount of time online each week for work.

It's likely that time spent online for work will increase, given the pandemic-fueled surge in telemedicine. Yet even when their personal and professional internet use are combined, neurologists, on average, spend far less time online than the nearly 7 hours per day of the average internet user, according to recent data.

Findings from Medscape's latest happiness, wellness, and lifestyle survey are based on 12,339 Medscape member physicians practicing in the United States who completed an online survey conducted between August 30 and November 5, 2020.

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