Physicians Fighting Burnout and Depression, Report Shows

Posted Feb 16, 2023 under:

Burnout and Depression among Healthcare Professionals

Physicians across the healthcare industry continue to report dealing with symptoms of burnout and depression, according to Medscape’s 2023 Physician Burnout and Depression Report.

Medscape 2023 Physician Burnout and Depression Report

Medical professionals continue to struggle with mental health and burnout symptoms in todays medical enviornment.

SCA Health is committed to working with our clinical and operations teams to ensure our physicians and nurses can effectively combat and avoid burnout in order to provide the highest quality care to our patients. Through the use of block scheduling we ensure our teammates remain healthy, both physically and mentally.

Physicians across the healthcare industry continue to report dealing with symptoms of burnout and depression, according to Medscape’s 2023 Physician Burnout and Depression Report.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals dealt with stressful work conditions. Their caseload grew daily, leaving them with little time to properly recover during non-working hours.

Increasing Burnout across Specialties

In 2018, prior to the pandemic, 42% of respondents reported feeling burnout in their roles, and 15% said they were combating depression. This year’s report provides insight on the current mental state of providers post-pandemic. 53% of this year’s participants reported feeling burnt out, and 23% said they were depressed. Emergency medicine (65%), internal medicine (60%), and pediatrics (59%) were the specialties that reported feeling the effects of burnout the most. Several SCA specialties were also included, such as gastroenterology (52%), orthopedics (45%) and cardiology (43%).

Burnout Among Female Physicians on the Rise

Previous studies have shown that female physicians experience the effects of burnout more often than their male counterparts. However, rates between the two have increased drastically since the pre-pandemic report. In 2018, 38% of males and 48% of women reported feeling burnt out. 2023’s report saw significant increases, with 46% and 63% respectfully.

“Studies have shown a clear link between microaggressions — either race-, or gender-based — and an increased risk of workplace distress,” Wendy Dean, M.D., co-founder of Fixmoralinjury.org said in the report. “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 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.”

Reasons behind Burnout and Depression

Many participants (61%) listed bureaucratic responsibilities as the main cause of their stress, a similar result to pre-pandemic surveying. A sense of a lack of respect among coworkers (38%) and long hours (37%) rounded out the same top three stressors as 2018.

Only 8% of respondents listed treating COVID-19 patients as their biggest stressor. However, other internal problems, including compensation (34%), a lack of autonomy and control (31%), and the continuing computerization of work (25%) also garnered significant results. While noting several of the reasonings behind feeling burnout, some physicians recognized that their personal behaviors may also play a role in their sentiments.

35% of respondents said that their personalities contributed to feelings of burnout or depression. 36% said they did not believe it to be the case in their situation, and 29% reported as being unsure.

Medscape received the below responses from participating physicians on their thoughts behind the topic:

  • “My perfectionism leads to way more charting time after office hours, contributing to a worse work-life balance.”
  • “I’m prone to worry and fret about worst-case scenarios.”
  • “I am an empath and ‘anal,’ for lack of a better word. I feel everything, which drains my energy. I’m going to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ when it comes to my patients.”

Effects on Outside Relationships

In its report, Medscape aims to explore the impact of physician stressors beyond patient care. In the latest report, 65% of respondents felt that burnout and depression due to work had a negative impact on their outside relationships.

“I’m quick to anger,” one unidentified respondent said. “I show annoyance from minor issues that come up with my immediate family.”

Dike Drummond, M.D., CEO at TheHappyMD.com notes that intense stressors at work can push physicians into “survival mode.” Drummond adds that this feeling can block one’s ability to connect with others, whether at work or at home.

“Colleagues and family members can see the signs of burnout way before you do,” Drummond said. “They don’t understand our ‘never show weakness’ programming that refuses to admit struggle and ask for support. Most doctors don’t ask for help until they are at the point of collapse. It doesn’t always need to be this way.”

Coping with Symptoms

Participants were asked if they had any tactics they used to cope with stress from work. Answers varied, including positive and negative mechanisms. 50% of respondents noted they exercise, while 45% speak with friends and loved ones to deal with increased stressors. Sleep (41%) rounded out the three most popular responses.

Some physicians admitted to negative coping behaviors, including eating junk food (32%), drinking alcohol (22%), and smoking (2%).

Along with these external releases, some participates noted making changes in their work lives to alleviate stress. 29% reported reducing work hours to improve work-life balance, and 22% found that organizational workflow adjustments brought improvements. 21% opted to change their job or work setting.

Social interactions outside of work and exercise have been proven in studies to improve one’s mood and release chemicals in the brain that indicate happiness such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. As more physicians report being depressed and exhausted with work, proper coping mechanisms become vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally.

Seek Assistance for Burnout

While many physicians choose not to seek assistance for their burnout symptoms, it’s critical that you be willing to ask for help when needed. Only 13% of respondents reported seeking help for their struggles. The remaining 87% were divided on if they would consider seeking help in the future (47%) or would not (39%).

Those unwilling to seek additional treatment stated they believed a mental health professional had no additional insight to add or would not provide valuable assistance to their situation.

If you or someone you know is experiencing the effects of burnout or depression, take steps that you believe are best for you. These can be healthy stress reducers, such as exercise or mediation, or seeking help from a mental health professional.

To read Medscape’s report in full, click here.

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