Medscape survey points to generational differences in physician burnout


Burnout among physicians appears to have decreased slightly in the past few years, but remains a significant problem for the medical profession, according to the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020: The Generational Divide.


A survey of more than 15,000 physicians revealed that 42% reported being burned out, down from 46% who responded to the survey 5 years ago. However, there are variations in the rates based on certain demographic factors such as specialty, age, and gender.

Urology sits at the top of the list as the specialty that is experiencing the highest rate of burnout, with 54% of urologists responding to the survey reporting burnout. Neurology and nephrology followed with rates of burnout at 50% and 49%, respectively. The next five specialties on the list all reported burnout rates of 46%: diabetes and endocrinology, family medicine, radiology, ob.gyn., and rheumatology. Pulmonology specialists reported a burnout rate of 41%. Gastroenterologists reported burnout rates of 37%.

The survey divided participants into three age categories – Millennial (ages 25-39 years), Generation X (ages 40-54 years), and Baby Boomer (ages 55-73 years). Both Millennials and Baby Boomers reported similar rates of burnout (38% and 39%, respectively) and those in Generation X reported a higher rate of burnout (48%).

This higher rate is not unexpected. The survey results cite Carol Bernstein, MD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, as noting that midcareer “is typically the time of highest burnout, which is where Gen Xers are in their career trajectory, suggesting a number of factors outside of work such as caring for children and elderly parents, planning for retirement, can play a role in contributing to burnout.”

Physicians in selected specialties who reported burnout

Women also reported a higher rate of burnout, although the rate has dropped from the survey conducted 5 years ago. The rate of burnout among women reported for the 2020 survey was 48%, down from 51% reported 5 years ago. By comparison, the rate of burnout for men was 37% in 2020, down from 43% in 2015.

In terms of what is causing burnout, the biggest contributor is the bureaucratic tasks (charting and paperwork, for example) that physicians must complete, which 55% of respondents to the survey said was the leading cause of burnout. Next was spending too many hours at work (33%); lack of respect from administrators, employers, colleagues, and staff (32%); and the increased computerization of the practice, including the use of electronic health records (30%).

When broken down by age category, the bureaucratic tasks was tops in all three groups (57% for Millennials, 56% for Generation X, and 54% for Baby Boomers), but what ranks next differs slightly by age group. For Millennials, the next two factors were too many hours at work (38%) and lack of respect (35%). Generation X respondents cited the same two factors, both at 33%. Baby Boomers cited computerization as their second-highest factor (41%) and spending too many hours at work as the third-highest factor (31%).

The generations had different approaches to coping with burnout. Millennials (56%) reported sleep as their top-ranked coping strategy, while Gen Xers and Baby Boomers ranked exercise and personal isolation as their top choice. For these two older groups, sleep was ranked last, after other activities such as talking with family and friends.

The survey also asked about depression, and respondents reported a similar rate across all age groups (15%, 18%, and 16%, respectively). Among those who said they were depressed, the three age groups had similar rates of suicidal thoughts (21%, 24%, and 22%).

Perhaps the most striking finding of the survey is the number of physicians who would take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance. Among Millennials, 52% would accept a pay cut, compared with 48% of Generation X and 49% of Baby Boomers. A surprising number (36%, 34%, and 31%, respectively, reported that they would accept a $10,000-$20,000 pay cut to have a 20% reduction in work hours. gtwachtman@mdedge.com

*This story was updated on 1/22/2020.

SOURCE: Kane L et al. Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020: The Generational Divide. Medscape. 2020 Jan 15.

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