Plastic Surgeons Report Decline in Work-Life Balance

Lucy Hicks

February 18, 2022

Four in ten plastic surgeons are burned-out, according to the Medscape Plastic Surgeon Lifestyle, Happiness, and Burnout Report 2022, a slightly lower percentage than that of physicians across all specialties (47%). Prior to the pandemic, 70% of plastic surgeons said they were happy with their work-life balance, but that percentage has now dropped to 58%.

Plastic surgery fell in the middle range of burned-out specialties, while emergency medicine (60%) and critical care (56%) had the highest reported rates of work-related fatigue. Dermatology (33%) and public health and preventive medicine (26%) had the lowest rates of burnout.

This new report was compiled from an online survey that included more than 13,000 physicians from 29 specialties, of which 1% of respondents were plastic surgeons. Sixty-one percent of respondents were male, and 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.

While half of female plastic surgeons reported feeling burned-out, 37% of their male colleagues said the same. The volume of bureaucratic tasks was the top contributor to burnout (46%), followed by too many hours at work (38%) and lack of control over their life (35%). Insufficient salary (31%), lack of respect from patients (30%), and increasing computerization of practice (28%) were also major factors. Three out of four plastic surgeons said burnout had a negative effect on their personal relationships, a larger proportion than with physicians overall (68%).

About half of plastic surgeons (52%) said they felt more burned-out now than during the initial months of the pandemic, and 32% said their feelings of burnout were unchanged. Reducing work hours (34%) and making workflow or staff changes to ease their workload (33%) were the top strategies for alleviating burnout. Meditation and other stress reduction techniques were the most popular methods among physicians overall (29%), but only 15% of plastic surgeons said they utilized these methods at work to combat burnout. Just 39% of plastic surgeons said they would take a pay cut to have better work-life balance, compared to 55% of physicians across all specialties.

While 3 in 4 plastic surgeons described their marriage as "very good" or "good," they ranked lowest among all specialists for marital happiness. Allergists and otolaryngologists had the happiest marriages (both 91%), according to the survey, and internists (79%), emergency medicine physicians (79%), and critical care physicians (76%) all ranked near plastic surgeons on the list.

Twenty-eight percent of plastic surgeons reported having clinical depression, compared to 24% of physicians overall. While most plastic surgeons (56%) said their depression did not affect interactions with patients, about one third (32%) said they were easily exasperated with patients, and a quarter said they were less motivated to take careful patient notes.

The percentage of plastic surgeons who reported being happy outside of work (73%) is higher than that of physicians overall (59%). To promote their happiness and mental health, plastic surgeons said they participated in hobbies (71%), exercised (65%), and spent time with family and friends (63%). Getting enough sleep (52%) and eating healthy (46%) were also common, while just 4% of plastic surgeons said therapy helped maintain their well-being.

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