New Survey Reveals Alarming Levels of Burnout, Depression Among Physicians

06 Feb, 2023 F.J. Thomas


Sarasota, FL ( – According to Harvard Business Review, there are three types of burnout. Overload, which is when you feel forced to keep up an unsustainable pace. Under challenged, in which the tasks you are required to do are monotonous and non-stimulating. Neglect, in which you feel helpless due to a lack of structure or support. 

Overload is the most common type reported by physicians. Increased compensation and a more manageable work schedule could improve physician burnout, according to Medscape’s most recent provider survey on burnout and depression. Medscape polled over 9,100 physicians across 29 specialties on how they were impacted by burnout and depression, as well as the effects it has on personal and patient relationships.

In the 2018 survey, 42 percent of physicians reported burnout, and 15 percent reported depression. In this latest survey, 53 percent physicians stated they were experiencing burnout and 23 percent stated they were depressed. Of those that reported depression, 67 percent stated the level of depression was feeling down or sad, but 24 percent stated they had clinical level depression that was severe, lasting for a longer period of time.

In 2018, 48 percent of female physicians reported burnout, but in the last year, the number has increased to 63 percent. Although not as high, the rate of burnout for male physicians has increased as well from 38 percent in 2018 to 46 percent currently. 

According to the results of the survey, symptoms of burnout have been brewing since maybe even before the start of the pandemic. In fact, 30 percent of physicians stated that they had felt burned out for longer than 2 years. Thirty-two percent estimated that they had felt burned out for 13 month to 2 years, and 25 percent stated 7 months to a year. Only 12 percent stated they had felt burned out for 1 to 6 months. 

What is worrisome is that the largest percentage of those that reported levels of burnout stated that they felt burnout had a strong or severe impact on their lives. Forty-three percent overall, and 42 percent of men and 44 percent of women felt as though burnout was greatly affecting their lives. Thirty-five percent overall, and 33 percent of men and 36 percent of women felt the impact was moderate. Only 22 percent overall, and 24 percent of men, and 20 percent of women reported little or no impact. Overall, 65 percent felt that burnout had negatively affected their relationships. 

While 51 percent stated that patient interactions are not impacted by their depression, 32 percent stated that they become easily exasperated. Additionally, 19 percent stated they are less careful taking patient notes, 14 percent stated they express their frustration, and 11 percent stated they made uncharacteristic errors. 

An overwhelming 61 percent cited too many bureaucratic tasks as the top contributor to feeling burned out. Lack of respect from coworkers came in second at 38 percent, followed by too many work hours at 37 percent, insufficient compensation at 34 percent, and lack of autonomy at 31 percent. Twenty-five percent stated the computerization and electronic medical records were a top contributor to their burnout. Factors that contributed to depression included job burnout at 64 percent, world events at 43 percent, being a physician at 30 percent, and finances at 28 percent. 

The good news is that most physicians are choosing good coping mechanisms for burnout. Fifty percent reported using exercise as a way to deal with burnout, and 45 percent stated they talked with family or friends. Forty-one percent stated that they used sleep as their way to deal with burnout. Not all reported healthy coping mechanisms, however. Thirty-two percent stated they ate junk food, 22 percent reported drinking alcohol, 2 percent reported smoking cigarettes, and 2 percent reported using cannabis as their methods of coping. 

Only 13 percent reported that they had sought professional help for their burnout symptoms. Forty-seven stated they have not gotten professional help but would consider it, and 39 percent stated they had not gotten help and would not consider it. 

Physicians were asked why they had not sought treatment for burnout or depression. Over half at 51 percent stated that depression says something negative about them. Forty-two percent stated that they worried people would think less of their professional abilities. Forty-one percent stated they were afraid of their medical board or employer finding out, and the same percentage stated they worried that people would think less of them. Twenty-six percent stated they see depression as a weakness. 

When asked about ways their employers could help alleviate burnout, increased compensation was the top suggestion at 45 percent, followed closely by a more manageable work schedule at 44 percent. More support staff ranked third at 37 percent, followed by more respect from superiors and coworkers at 36 percent, and lighter patient loads at 33 percent. 

When asked what steps they had taken at work to alleviate burnout, 29 percent reported a reduction in hours, and 26 percent stated they had not taken any of the actions listed. Twenty-five percent reported using meditation, 22 percent made staff or workflow changes, and 21 percent changed jobs or work settings. Only 19 percent stated they had spoken with their employer about productivity pressures. 

The top specialties impacted by burnout in 2018 included family physicians at 47 percent, and internal medicine at 46 percent. According to the latest survey, emergency medicine is the specialty with the highest rates of burnout. Sixty-five percent of the emergency medicine physicians reported they were burned out, up from 45 percent in 2018. Internal medicine ranked second at 60 percent, followed by pediatrics at 59 percent. Ob/Gyn and infectious diseases tied for third at 58 percent, followed by family medicine at 57 percent. The specialties reporting the lowest levels of burnout included public health and preventative medicine at 37 percent, followed by pathology at 39 percent, and cardiology at 43%.

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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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