Ophthalmologists Are Less Depressed Than Other Specialists

Lucy Hicks

February 18, 2022

Ophthalmologists report lower rates of clinical depression and higher rates of happiness outside of work than physicians in other specialties, according to the Medscape Ophthalmologist Lifestyle, Happiness, and Burnout Report 2022.

One in four ophthalmologists (40%) said they were burned-out, less than in the general physician pool (47%). Emergency medicine (60%) and critical care (56%) ranked highest among all specialties regarding rates of burnout, while public health and preventive medicine (26%) and dermatology (33%) ranked lowest.

This new report was compiled from an online survey that included more than 13,000 physicians from 29 specialties, of which 2% of respondents were ophthalmologists. Most respondents (61%) were male; 38% were female. The most common age of respondents was 55–64 (31%), followed by 45–54 (25%) and those 65 years or older (20%). The survey was available from June 29, 2021, to September 26, 2021.

More than half of female ophthalmologists (52%) reported being burned-out, compared to 35% of their male peers. The volume of bureaucratic tasks (57%) and government regulations (43%) were the top contributors to burnout, according to respondents. Insufficient pay (36%), lack of control in life (32%), and lack of respect from colleagues (27%) were also contributing factors. More than half of ophthalmologists (56%) reported feeling more burned-out now than during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reducing work hours (28%), making workflow or staff changes to ease workload (24%), and participating in meditation or other stress-reduction techniques (22%) were the most common techniques used by respondents to alleviate burnout. According to the survey, ophthalmologists also sold their practice or put their practice up for sale at five times the rate of physicians across all specialties (16% vs 3%).

One in ten (10%) ophthalmologists reported being clinically depressed, less than half of the proportion in the general physician pool (24%). More than half (54%) of ophthalmologists said depression did not affect interactions with patients, while more than a quarter (27%) said they became easily exasperated with patients. Respondents also said that they were less careful while taking patient notes (24%), expressed their frustration in front of patients (10%), and made errors that they may not have normally made (7%).

Female ophthalmologists reported feeling conflicted about balancing work and parenthood at more than twice the rate of their male peers (44% vs 17%). This is a slightly greater contrast than in the general physician pool, where nearly half (48%) of women and 29% of men said they felt conflicted as a parent due to work demands.

The percentage of ophthalmologists who said they were currently "very happy" or "somewhat happy" outside of work (65%) was slightly higher than for physicians across all specialties (59%). Ophthalmologists ranked sixth among specialists regarding marital happiness (89%). Allergists and otolaryngologists topped the list (both 91%), while plastic surgeons ranked last (75%).

Ophthalmologists participated in non–work-related hobbies, exercised, and spent time with family and friends (all 68%) to promote their well-being. Getting enough sleep (55%) and eating healthy (49%) were also common strategies, while only 5% of respondents said therapy helped maintain their happiness and mental health outside of work.

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