By Phil West, WCI Contributor
Maybe it should go without saying, but one of the most important elements of a retirement plan is to actually make it to retirement at your job. For some physicians, especially in certain specialties, burnout is a real factor, and it has continued to rise dramatically in recent years. If you’re a physician experiencing burnout, it can have repercussions for your family and for yourself.
In some cases, it is temporary, and a vacation reset is enough to get you back to feeling happy and centered. In other cases, being locked into one of the hardest medical specialties can contribute significantly to your burnout.
To better understand physician burnout by specialty and to help determine how at risk for burnout you might be, a Medscape survey of physicians might bring some perspective. Keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic created additional stressors and exacerbated burnout throughout the medical profession, and the survey reflects some of that.
Physician Burnout Survey Results
The 2023 Medscape survey found that burnout continues to be on the rise, jumping from 42% in the 2021 report and 47% in the 2022 report all the way to 53% in the 2023 report. The hardest medical specialties, per the survey’s numbers, were fields that were most certainly impacted by COVID-19, but they're also simply high-stress categories. Those include emergency medicine at 65%, internal medicine at 60%, and pediatrics at 59%. OB/GYN and infectious diseases were also in the top five—both at 58%.
Curiously, public health and preventative medicine was the least susceptible physician burnout specialty, with just 37% reporting burnout. But that is still a significant increase (9%) from the 2022 report. Other categories that fared comparatively well include pathology (39%), cardiology (43%), nephrology (44%), and orthopedics (45%).
Other interesting findings from the study include:
- 63% of female physicians reported burnout compared to 46% of men.
- Bureaucratic tasks like paperwork and charting were the biggest contributor to burnout (with lack of respect from administrators, colleagues, and staff in second and too many hours at work in third). These top three factors are the same as five years ago.
- Those in office-based solo practices reported less burnout than those in outpatient clinics, office-based multispecialty group practices, and healthcare organizations.
- More than half of those reporting burnout said it had a strong/severe impact on their lives, compared to moderate or little to no impact.
According to a USA Today article from December 2022 covering a US Department of Labor study, five of the 10 most stressful occupations in the nation are in the medical field, with urologists being determined as the most stressful job.
The Medscape study found that physicians had both internal and external strategies for dealing with the stressors contributing to burnout, including “trying to change the situation that causes overwork and attempting to deal with the situation differently within themselves.”
More information here:
The first and most important step for physicians experiencing burnout is to determine that it’s actually burnout and not just some temporary response to additional stressors. Then, it’s worth it—especially if you’re a physician running your own practice—to determine if there are people or systems you could invest in to alleviate your stress.
In more extreme cases, physicians might consider changing specialties or leaving the profession altogether—though either of those moves can be incredibly involved and can cause additional stressors, including financial stress, in the short term. Burnout is the biggest financial risk on your path to retirement, but having a written financial plan can help you make decisions and determine your next steps. It might just make more sense to see how you can make your situation better—even if you have to spend a little money to make it happen. In the long run, the investment you make could preserve your long-term earning potential as a physician.
If you’re a physician who’s feeling burned out, The White Coat Investor can help. With our Burnout Proof MD program, we can help get you back to the place, mentally and physically, where you can be at your best. End the struggle and remember why you wanted to be a doctor with Burnout Proof MD.
The White Coat Investor is filled with posts like this, whether it’s increasing your financial literacy, showing you the best strategies on your path to financial success, or discussing the topic of mental wellness. To discover just how much The White Coat Investor can help you in your financial journey, start here to read some of our most popular posts and to see everything else WCI has to offer. And if you're inspired to build a sturdy financial foundation, make sure to sign up for our WCI 101 email series.