Doctors respond: Burnout rates are alarming

When doctors complain that they feel burned out at work, what exactly do they mean?

Here’s how one doctor describes conditions that lead to burnout: “I barely spend enough time with most patients, just running from one to the next, and after work I spend hours documenting, making charts, and editing reports. I feel like an overpaid clerk.”

Physicians suffering from burnout do not always find relief at home. “Home is just as hectic and chaotic as work. I can never relax,” says another doctor.

The Medscape Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2022: Stress, Anxiety and Anger prompted passionate responses from physicians on multiple fronts. In this report, 47% of responding physicians reported suffering from burnout, up from 42% in our survey last year.

Few doubt the burnout/depression problem

While opinions differ on the main culprits, commentators lamented rather than questioned the extent of burnout and depression among physicians.

“It strikes me that 24% of our colleagues suffer from clinical depression,” worries one doctor. “This is a serious matter. Individuals need to address work-life balance. Find ways to seek help and [develop] a coping mechanism.”

The report’s findings also alarmed another doctor, who said: “It doesn’t matter to me which medical specialty has the highest rate of burnout or depression. I see that between 60% and 26% [depending on the specialty] ALL doctors – after a long study, work and probably debt – are burned out.

“If you have bright kids, tell them to run away from even considering a career in medicine.”

Two commenters argued that hospitals and other healthcare organizations need to be more assertive in addressing the mental exhaustion of doctors. “A telephone consultation service is not enough. After all, we are the breadwinners for them,” said one.

However, not all were willing to put the burden on healthcare employers.

“I understand that, but medical schools should do a better job of selecting students and teaching them that to be a doctor you have to have a calling. That’s not the same as being a do-gooder,” argued one doctor. “It means having a passion for medicine and practicing it.”

The right employer and the community help doctors

How do you manage to put together the right combination of employer and lively community to avoid burnout? This question triggered a lot of back and forth.

“Get your degree, do your residency, then say goodbye to occupational medicine and go straight to primary care,” advised one doctor. “You’ll pay off your loans while having fun!”

Another doctor shot back, “Good luck opening an independent practice in a community with amenities that allow you to live a full and enjoyable life outside of work.”

Research shows that a healthy work-life balance and a rewarding personal life positively influence burnout and depression among physicians. Some believe that relaxation is more achievable in self-employment than in corporate employment, but this assumption has not always held true. The right mental health doctor choice is sometimes elusive and influenced by many factors.

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