COVID Continues to Take a Toll on Neurologists' Well-being

Megan Brooks

February 19, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on the happiness, wellness and lifestyles of many segments of the population, but especially those in the healthcare field, including neurologists.

The newly released Medscape Neurologist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2022 explores neurologists’ level of happiness in their personal and professional lives and how they maintain their mental and physical health.

Prior to the global pandemic, three quarters (75%) of neurologists reported they were "very" or "somewhat" happy outside of work, similar to physicians overall (81%).

But as the pandemic wore on, feelings shifted and there are clear signs of stress and strain on those in the healthcare field. 

Now, the percentage of neurologists who say they are currently "very" or "somewhat" happy outside of work has dropped to 62%, about the same as physicians overall (59%).

Female Neurologists Hit Hard

In last year's report, 42% of neurologists reported burnout; that's risen to 47% this year.

When it comes to burnout, neurologists remain in the middle range of burned-out physicians. Perhaps not surprising given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout rates are highest in emergency medicine and critical care physicians.

Female neurologists report burnout at a greater rate than their male colleagues — 54% vs 41%.

"There's no question that women have reported far more role strain during the pandemic than men," said Carol A. Bernstein, MD, psychiatrist at Montefiore Health System and professor and vice chair for faculty development and well-being at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City.

"Often women assumed more of the childcare and home-schooling responsibilities in their households. As [a] result, we know that more women dropped out of the workforce. Also, past studies indicate that women are more likely to report feelings of burnout than men," Bernstein noted.

The volume of bureaucratic tasks is the main driver of neurologist burnout, similar to that for physicians overall. 

Lack of control or autonomy, lack of respect from colleagues and more time devoted to electronic health records (EHRs) were also selected as major factors in this year’s report.

Among their top strategies to quell burnout, neurologists take advantage of meditation or other stress-reduction methods, change workflow or staffing to ease their workload, and reduce their hours on the job.

Almost one third (32%) of neurologists feel that their personality type contributes to their burnout, similar to physicians overall (34%). Nearly seven in 10 neurologists (69%) say burnout affects their relationships, similar to physicians overall (68%).

Work-Life Balance

More than half of neurologists (55%) said they are willing to take a cut in pay in order to achieve a better work-life balance or have more free time. This is similar among physicians overall.

Only 9% of neurologists reported clinical depression (severe depression lasting some time and not caused by grief), but 88% reported colloquial depression (feeling down, blue, sad).

About half (52%) of depressed neurologists said their depression does not have an impact on relationships with patients. Among those who saw an impact, the major behaviors they reported included being easily exasperated with patients and feeling less motivated to take patient notes carefully.

To maintain well-being, neurologists often choose to spend their time with their loved ones, do the things they enjoy, and exercise.

Perhaps not surprisingly, more neurologists were happy with their work-life balance before the pandemic than now (66% vs 48%). The same holds for physicians overall.

Before the pandemic, 21% of neurologists reported being unhappy with their work-life balance. That has risen to 36% this year.

The majority of neurologists are currently in a committed relationship, with 82% either married or living with a partner, similar to physicians overall (83%).

Eighty-three percent of neurologists say they are in a "very good" or "good" marriage. This is about the same as in last year's report (82%).

About half of neurologists have partners who do not work in medicine. This is similar to the proportion among all physicians.

Among neurologists balancing parenthood and a medical career, female physicians noted feeling conflicted at about twice the rate of their male peers (55% vs 27% were "very conflicted" or "conflicted").

This general attitude is reflected in almost all occupations, according to a Pew Research survey, which found that a greater number of mothers vs fathers struggled with childcare responsibilities during the pandemic.

Findings from Medscape's latest happiness, wellness, and lifestyle survey are based on 13,069 Medscape member physicians (61% male) practicing in the United States who completed an online survey conducted between June 29 and September 26, 2021. Most respondents were between 35 and 64 years old.

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