- Physicians ages 40 to 54, or those belonging to Generation X, experience burnout at a higher rate than their older and younger coworkers, according to a new report from Medscape. Nearly 48% of Gen X physicians reported burnout, compared with 38% of millennials and 39% of baby boomers.
- Among all generations, bureaucratic tasks including charts and paperwork were cited most frequently as a factor for professional dissatisfaction and burnout, followed by long hours. While boomers largely cited the increasing computerization of practice, or the EHR, millennials ranked EHRs near the bottom of their list.
- Half of all physicians surveyed said they would take a salary reduction of up to $20,000 annually for reduced hours and more work-life balance, including millennials who are among the lowest earners.
Long hours, overnight shifts and stressful work environments have long made healthcare a demanding profession – often resulting in burnout among physicians, increased staff turnover and decreased productivity.
Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape Business of Medicine, said healthcare organizations are more aware of burnout and its implications than in the past. Some hospitals are implementing wellness programs, Kane said, although "individual stress reduction won't change the big systemic problem."
Medscape's annual report published Wednesday on National Physician Burnout, Depression and Suicide found that while the overall rate of burnout among healthcare professionals dropped slightly, from 46% in 2015 to 42% in 2020, a generational divide is now apparent. This was the first year the online survey, which observed more than 15,000 physicians across 29 specialties, evaluated physicians' responses by generation.
Gen X healthcare workers, or those born between roughly 1965 and 1985, reported higher levels of burnout or job-related stress that contributed to feelings of exhaustion, cynicism and detachment from professional satisfaction and responsibilities.
These findings diverge from a 2019 study from InCrowd, a market research vendor for life sciences companies, where survey respondents in their 70s had the lowest rate of burnout at 22%, compared with 70% of physicians in their 30s.
While the primary causes of burnout: long hours, overwhelming workload and lack of support, remain unchanged over the years, the introduction of new technology was named as a top stressor by boomers. They cited the increasing computerization of practice through EHRs as a top three factor for burnout, while Gen Xers and millennials ranked it far lower on their list of concerns.
Another generational difference was found in coping mechanisms. While millennials reported sleeping (56%) and talking with close family or friends (53%), Gen X and boomer physicians reported isolating themselves from others (45% and 44%), and exercising (46% and 45%).
Consistent with previous years, female physicians reported burnout at higher rates than men, at 48% compared with 37%.
Burnout can lead to depression, which nearly one in five physicians reported experiencing. Physicians who reported depression said it can impact their work performance, leading them to be easily exasperated with patients (40%) and sometimes result in errors they otherwise would not make (16%).
Beyond affecting the quality of patient care, burnout carries other financial implications for healthcare organizations. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last May reported that physician burnout costs the healthcare industry between $2.6 billion and $6.3 billion each year, with costs stemming from increased turnover and reduced productivity, among other factors.