Physicians in emergency medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics are reportedly the most burned out among all doctors.
The doctors who tend to experience the lowest rates of burnout are in public health and preventive medicine, pathology, and cardiology.
Experts say that physicians may avoid burnout by recognizing their stress levels, setting boundaries, seeking social support in work settings, tending to their overall health, and getting professional help as needed.
“I’ve become a negative person, which I didn’t use to be.”
This is how one physician described the effect that burnout has had on their life in the Medscape Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2023.
This doctor wouldn’t be alone in their struggle, as 53% of over 9,100 physicians who participated in the survey are also reportedly dealing with burnout—and some more than others.
We at MDLinx want to update you on which doctors tend to experience the highest rates of burnout according to specialty, which has changed since our prior report in 2021.
Which doctors suffer most from burnout?
Burnout tends to have a bigger impact on doctors within certain specialties. According to the 2023 Medscape report, the top-five most burned-out specialties are:
Emergency medicine (65%)
Internal medicine (60%)
Infectious diseases (58%)
On the flip side, the top-five least burned-out specialties include:
Public health & preventive medicine (37%)
Other results revealed that female physicians (63%) tend to experience higher levels of burnout than male physicians (46%).
Both statistics have risen from 2018, when only 38% of men and 48% of women reported feeling burned out.
Wendy Dean, MD, co-founder of Fixmoralinjury.org, says that those who experience race- and gender-based microaggressions on the job are often subject to increased distress.
“Whether it's emotional exhaustion (burnout) from constantly having to defend their authority; being overlooked for leadership opportunities; having different expectations of behavior; being interrupted or talked over in meetings; or as betrayal (moral injury) by an organization failing to uphold stated codes of conduct, women's relative disempowerment to men puts them at higher risk of distress,” Dr. Dean told Medscape.
Common contributing factors
In addition to race and gender discrimination in the workplace, the participants in Medscape’s survey reported several other major factors that lead to burnout.
For example, 61% of physicians said that “too many bureaucratic tasks” is the primary contributor to their symptoms of burnout.
Another 38% of doctors said that “lack of respect from coworkers” takes the cake, while 37% said that “too many work hours” trumps all other contributing factors.
These top-three factors haven’t changed since 2018. What has changed, however, is a new 8% of doctors who reported that caring for patients with COVID-19 is their top reason for feeling burned out.
When asked what factors led to their burnout, some physicians answered, “The burden of being on call” and “Poor leadership that doesn’t care about the physicians,” among other responses.
Due to these factors, along with insufficient pay, lack of autonomy, and lack of respect from patients, it’s clear that physicians are dealing with a number of hardships that pave the way for emotional exhaustion at work. Thankfully, there are ways to beat burnout before it begins.
Avoid burnout with these tips
If you’re a doctor experiencing burnout, know that there are tried and true methods for dealing with it.
According to a 2023 article published by the BMJ, physicians can avoid burnout with the following practices.
Recognizing how stressed you are. The longer you wait to acknowledge your own stress levels, the harder it will be to address them. Resist the urge to simply “plough through” your struggles, and work toward acceptance of your feelings.
Changing what is in your control. Let’s face it: There exist a ton of factors outside of your control. You can avoid burnout by making adjustments to what you can control, such as implementing strategies to reduce administrative tasks, communicating with your colleagues about other potentially beneficial changes at work, or reducing your hours at work.
Setting boundaries. Protect your time and energy by learning to say “no” to extra work. You can always pick up a book on improving your assertiveness, or take a course that gives you the tools to do so. No matter which avenue you take, learning to set firm boundaries around work will help to prevent burnout.
Taking care of your overall health. Are you exercising enough? What does your diet consist of? Could you be drinking more water? These are questions to consider when troubleshooting ways to prevent burnout. Another way to bolster your overall health and reduce stress at work is by implementing mindfulness and breathwork exercises.
Getting help. Maybe you’ve tried all of the above tips, and you’re still struggling to stay afloat. If you’re at your breaking point, speak to a professional. You may greatly benefit from taking some time away from work in order to establish a more sustainable relationship with it in the long term.
What this means for you
Burnout and depression are increasingly prevalent among doctors, especially those in emergency medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. You and your colleagues can better manage symptoms of burnout by setting firm work-related boundaries, making small changes that support your well-being (both on and off the clock), and seeking professional help when needed.
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