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Nearly half of doctors report burnout, but there is some progress, survey finds

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Fewer physicians are reporting burnout and depression than last year, according to an annual survey by Medscape.

It says something about the prevalence of physician burnout when a new survey finds that nearly half of all doctors say they’re feeling burned out, and it’s a sign of improvement.

Image credit: ©reewungjunerr - stock.adobe.com

Nearly half of physicians said they are feeling burned out, according to a new survey by Medscape. (Image credit: ©reewungjunerr - stock.adobe.com)

In the 2024 Medscape Physician Burnout and Depression Report, 49% of physicians said they are feeling burned out, and 20% said they were feeling depressed. The report was released this week.

While those numbers wouldn’t appear to be great, fewer physicians reported burnout and depression in this year’s survey. In Medscape’s 2023 survey, 53% reported burnout, and 23% said they were depressed.

To be clear, the vast majority of doctors (83%) say their burnout is tied to their jobs.

The study showed a gender gap, with women physicians being more likely to say they were feeling burned out than men (56% to 44%). But there was a drop in the number of women physicians dealing with burnout this year compared to last year (63% in the 2023 survey). The drop among male physicians was smaller year over (46% to 44%). Other surveys have found higher rates of burnout among women doctors.

Once again, doctors have cited bureaucratic tasks (charting and paperwork) as the leading contributor to burnout. Nearly two-thirds (62%) pointed to administrative work as their top source of burnout. That’s a slight uptick from last year’s survey (61%).

Among other leading sources of burnout, about 2 in 5 (41%) say they are working too many hours, while 40% cited a lack of respect from administrators and colleagues, and 38% pointed to inadequate compensation.

Healthcare leaders may want to note this finding: Less than a quarter (23%) of the doctors surveyed said they thought their employees recognized issues with burnout. Nearly half (48%) said employers weren’t aware of burnout issues, while 29% said they were unsure.

Many physicians who are battling depression are keeping to themselves. The Medscape survey asked doctors to explain why they aren’t telling anyone about their depression, and nearly half (42%) said they were worried about their employer or medical boards learning about it, and 44% said they feared others would doubt their skills as physicians.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Foundation has been working to promote mental health among clinicians, and encouraging doctors to get help if they need it. The foundation, created in honor of a physician who died by suicide, is also encouraging hospitals and medical boards to drop invasive questions about mental health.

J. Corey Feist, founder and CEO of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation, told Chief Healthcare Executive® in an October 2023 interview that it’s critical for organizations and licensure boards to remove questions about their mental health.

“One of the things that we've learned is that the number one driver of suicide of health workers, is their concern around these overly invasive questions that appear on all of these applications they complete,” Feist said.

Hospitals and health systems need to constantly remind physicians and other staff that they should get help for their mental health if they need it, and stress that it’s not going to damage their careers.

The Medscape survey also identified the three specialties with the highest levels of burnout: emergency medicine (63%), obstetrics/gynecology (53%), and oncology (53%).

Other surveys indicate widespread burnout from doctors. The Physicians Foundation’s 2023 Survey of America’s Current and Future Physicians found that six in 10 doctors report feelings of burnout. The Physician Foundation survey also found disturbing levels of stress and anxiety among residents and medical students.

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