Physician burnout is serious. A Medscape survey showed that 44% of physicians meet the criteria for burnout,11% are colloquially depressed (feeling down or sad), and 4% are clinically depressed, according to the Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019.

The study was completed by Medscape members and non-members. The research represented 15,069 physicians across 29 specialties.

The responses show that 14% have had thoughts of suicide but haven’t attempted it, and 6% said they preferred not to answer. Authors note that one physician a day dies by suicide, the highest rate of any profession. According to this survey, 1% of physicians have attempted it.

The burnout rate among ophthalmologist was reported by Medscape to be 34%

Most Who Are Considering Suicide Tell Someone

Most who have had thoughts of suicide (58%) tell someone, and that person is most often a therapist (34%) or a family member (33%), the responses indicate.

Physicians in public health and preventive medicine saw the lowest level of burnout, at 28%. While critical care physicians and neurologists had the highest burnout rates at 48% each.

Urologists also had the second-highest percentage (76%) of physicians who work more than 51 hours in the survey. Only general surgeons had more, at 77%.

Women are burning out faster than men

Women had much higher burnout rates (50% for women and 39% for their male counterparts). Carol Bernstein, MD, a psychiatrist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center points to several factors: women typically are more likely to admit the problem and they bear disproportionately more responsibility for child care and the household.

The resulting impact on female physicians ranged from weight gain and alcohol abuse to miscarriages and relationship problems.

When asked what leads to burnout in their lives, 59% of physicians said too many administrative tasks. The next most common answer was spending too much time at work (34%) and increased computerization of practice, such as the use of electronic health records (EHR) (32%).

The prevalence of burnout was not affected by the practice setting, whether healthcare organizations, hospitals, outpatient clinics, academic settings, or solo practices.

Physicians coped with depression with exercising, talking to family and friends, and isolating themselves. More than 53% said it affected their patient care

Not enough doctors seek help

Despite this pressure, only 16% of physicians of those reporting burnout or depression said they are seeking help or plan to; 64% said they will not seek help and have not done so in the past.

Those in public health/preventive medicine were the most likely to seek help (45%).

Those least likely to seek help included three groups with the longest hours: surgeons (17%), nephrologists (19%) and urologists (20%). It makes perverse sense.

Which Specialists Are Happiest at Work?

The survey also asked about those on the flip side — the happiest. Plastic surgeons were at the top (41%), followed by those in public health/preventive medicine (40%) and ophthalmologists (39%).

If there’s a moral to the story, physicians need to have each other’s backs when it comes to mental health.

How can these stressors be mitigated? Does this study ring true to you? Leave your thought in the comments below.