By Matthew Coleman
Internal medicine subspecialists experience below-average burnout rates compared with other physicians, but they also report the least satisfaction with work-life-balance, according to a study published online first by Archives of Internal Medicine.
In the overall sample of US physicians from all specialties, 45.8% indicated at least one symptom of burnout, as assessed using the 22-item Maslach Burnout Inventory.
“Burnout can have serious personal repercussions for physicians, including problematic alcohol use, broken relationships, and suicidal ideation,” wrote lead author Tait D. Shanafelt, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, and colleagues.
“When considered with the mounting evidence that physician burnout adversely affects quality of care, these findings suggest a highly prevalent and systemic problem threatening the foundation of the US medical care system.”
Rates of burnout showed deep divergence across specialties. Emergency medicine, general internal medicine, neurology, and family medicine had the highest rates of burnout, while pathology, dermatology, general pediatrics, and preventive medicine had the lowest.
In terms of work-life balance, dermatology, general pediatrics, and preventive medicine had the highest rated satisfaction, and general surgery, general surgery subspecialties, and obstetrics/gynecology the lowest.
The 7,288 physicians were also assessed using a two-item burnout measure, and their responses were compared with those from a probability-based sample of 3,442 working US adults who were not physicians.
Of the physicians, 37.9% had symptoms of burnout and 40.1% were dissatisfied with work-life balance, compared with 27.8% and 23.1% of working adults, respectively.
“In contrast to these differences in burnout, no statistically significant differences between physicians and controls were observed in symptoms of depression or suicidal ideation in the past 12 months, suggesting that the higher distress among physicians was limited to professional burnout,” the authors wrote.
Limitations of the research included the low response rate of 26.7% among physicians invited to participate, as well as the cross-sectional nature of the survey, which meant it was unable to determine whether the observed associations were causally related.
“Given the evidence that burnout may adversely affect quality of care and negatively affect physician health, additional research is needed to identify personal, organizational, and societal interventions to address this problem,” Dr. Shanafelt and colleagues wrote.
The study was funded by the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic Department of Medicine Program on Physician Well-Being.