Gastroenterologists Split on Less Pay for More Life Balance

Marcia Frellick

February 23, 2021

Work-life balance was the top concern by far among gastroenterologists, according to responses in the Medscape Gastroenterologist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2021.

Gastroenterologists were split 50-50, however, as to whether they would sacrifice some of their salary for better balance.

Nearly half (48%) of survey respondents listed work-life balance concerns as most important, more than twice the percentage who were most concerned about compensation (22%), the next most common answer.

Table 1. Which Workplace Issues Concern Gastroenterologists Most?
Issue Top Concern (%)
Work-life balance 48
Compensation 22
Combining parenthood/work 7
Relationships with colleagues/staff 6
Age discrimination 4
Career development 3
Gender equity 3
Sexual harassment 1
Other 6

Happiness Levels Dropped During Pandemic

For gastroenterologists, happiness levels outside work dropped from 81% last year to 54% this year. But they aren't alone as happiness levels have taken a sharp drop among physicians across the board during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, for instance, those in diabetes and endocrinology had the highest happiness level at 89%. They remain the happiest this year, but the proportion saying they were happy dropped to 73%.

Perhaps not surprising, given the particular demands on certain specialties, infectious disease physicians were the least happy at 45%; followed by pulmonologists (47%); and rheumatologists and intensivists at 49%.

In light of COVID-19, 80% of gastroenterologists said they had some degree of anxiety about their futures, slightly higher than the 77% of physicians overall who answered that way.

Healthy/Unhealthy Habits

At the same time, gastroenterologists report maintaining several healthy habits.

Forty percent of GI doctors answered that they take time for their own health and wellness most of the time or always, which beat the 35% of physicians overall who said they did.

They were also more likely than physicians overall to say they exercised at least two times a week (77% vs 70% for physicians overall). Some gastroenterologists (15%) report they exercise every day, whereas 12% said they don't exercise at all.

Exercise was also gastroenterologists' top pandemic coping mechanism by far, chosen by 51%. That was followed by talking with family members or close friends (39%) and playing or listening to music (38%). However, 36% said they cope by isolating themselves.

From 15% to 19% said they binge eat, eat junk food, or drink alcohol to cope. Some are smoking marijuana or using marijuana products (5%), smoking cigarettes (2%), or using prescription drugs (1%) to cope.

Survey responses indicated that a higher percentage of GI doctors were in committed relationships than were physicians overall; 91% of gastroenterologists were married or living with a partner compared with 85% of physicians overall.

Most managed to take some vacation time in the past year. The most common span was 3-4 weeks (taken by 47%), while 29% took 1-2 weeks, 12% took 5-6 weeks, 10% took more than 6 weeks, and 2% took less than 1 week.

Few Who Report Burnout Seek Help

Burnout levels crept up slightly in the specialty, from 36% last year who said they were either burned out or burned out and depressed to 40% this year. The vast majority (85%) said the burnout started before the pandemic.

Nearly half (44%) of those reporting burnout say it has a strong/severe impact on their lives and 15% said the effect is strong enough that they are considering leaving medicine.

The vast majority of GI doctors (84%) who say they are depressed or burned out say they have no plans to seek help for burnout or depression. Only 14% said they are currently getting help or plan to.

Asked why, most (58%) chose the answer "symptoms are not severe enough," followed by "I can deal with this without help from a professional" (45%) and "too busy" (38%). Respondents could choose more than one answer.

Thoughts of suicide were reported by 6% of gastroenterologists, though none reported having attempted to kill themselves.

One physician who reported having suicidal thoughts wrote, "I yell all the time. I am angry and frustrated all the time. I think about quitting all the time.... No one (in my organization) cares about doing the right things for patients as much as I do."

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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