Purpose: To compare the prevalence of burnout and other forms of distress across career stages and the experiences of trainees and early career (EC) physicians versus those of similarly aged college graduates pursuing other careers.
Method: In 2011 and 2012, the authors conducted a national survey of medical students, residents/fellows, and EC physicians (≤ 5 years in practice) and of a probability-based sample of the general U.S. population. All surveys assessed burnout, symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation, quality of life, and fatigue.
Results: Response rates were 35.2% (4,402/12,500) for medical students, 22.5% (1,701/7,560) for residents/fellows, and 26.7% (7,288/27,276) for EC physicians. In multivariate models that controlled for relationship status, sex, age, and career stage, being a resident/fellow was associated with increased odds of burnout and being a medical student with increased odds of depressive symptoms, whereas EC physicians had the lowest odds of high fatigue. Compared with the population control samples, medical students, residents/fellows, and EC physicians were more likely to be burned out (all P < .0001). Medical students and residents/fellows were more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression than the population control samples (both P < .0001) but not more likely to have experienced recent suicidal ideation.
Conclusions: Training appears to be the peak time for distress among physicians, but differences in the prevalence of burnout, depressive symptoms, and recent suicidal ideation are relatively small. At each stage, burnout is more prevalent among physicians than among their peers in the U.S. population.