- Female physicians and those specializing in critical care and infectious diseases reported the highest rates of burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, a Medscape report released Monday found.
- While the rate of physicians reporting burnout overall held steady from 2019 to 2020 at 42%, it rose from 48% to 51% for women, and remained unchanged at 36% for men.
- Critical care, rheumatology and infectious disease specialists ranked among the highest reporting burnout for the first time since Medscape started the survey in 2013. In 2019, urology, neurology and nephrology specialists ranked the highest.
Burnout has long been an issue for healthcare providers. Characterized as long-term, unresolved, job-related stress, nearly 80% of physicians said they'd felt it prior to the pandemic, according to Medscape.
But one in five said the feeling only emerged last year, and the toll it's taking on some is greater than others.
Medscape surveyed more than 12,000 physicians in 29 specialties from Aug. 30 through Nov. 5 to gauge their mental and emotional well-being during the pandemic. While women have consistently reported higher burnout rates than men in Medscape's surveys, this year's disparities were greater than usual, it noted.
And physicians from different specialties reported higher rates of burnout this year than in the past. Those in critical care, rheumatology and infectious diseases reported the highest rates in 2020, compared with those in urology, neurology, nephrology, endocrinology and family medicine in 2019.
Among all physicians surveyed, more than a third said they felt unhappy in 2020 compared with 19% in 2019. Only 20% said they were very happy this year compared with 43% in 2019.
"The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), difficult conditions, long hours, grief over losing patients, and watching patients' families suffer added a layer of extreme stress and exhaustion for many frontline workers," according to the report.
It noted, however, that the most cited reasons for feeling burned out remained largely unchanged. Only 8% of physicians said treating COVID-19 patients was their primary cause of burnout, while nearly two-thirds cited excessive bureaucratic demands. And 37% cited long hours.
Also in line with past years, 20% of physicians said they were depressed. They said it can lead them to be more easily exacerbated with patients, less careful when taking notes and more prone to errors they otherwise wouldn't make.