Medical specialties with the highest burnout rates

AMA Wire
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Work-related burnout is a pervasive problem among physicians—and it’s worsening across all specialties, according to a recent national study. Learn how burnout has increased in just three years and which specialties reported the highest rates of burnout. Where does yours fall on the list?

The rise of burnout in medicine

Physician burnout experts at the AMA and the Mayo Clinic conducted a survey of 6,880 physicians to “evaluate the prevalence of burnout and physicians’ satisfaction with work-life balance compared to the general U.S. population relative to 2011 and 2014,” according to the study, which was recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

“In 2011, we conducted a national study measuring burnout and other dimensions of well-being in U.S. physicians as well as the general U.S. working population. At the time of that study, approximately 45 percent of U.S. physicians met criteria for burnout,” the study authors wrote.

When a follow-up survey was conducted in 2014, 54.4 percent of physicians reported at least one sign of burnout. Physicians also reported lower rates of satisfaction with work-life balance in 2014 compared to a similar sample of physicians in 2011. All physicians in the study were assessed using questions on the Maslach Burnout Inventory.

Which specialties have the highest burnout rates?

“Substantial variation in the rate of burnout was observed by specialty, with the highest rates observed among many specialties at the front line of access to care,” the study authors noted.

Compared to 2011, burnout rates were higher for all specialties in 2014. In fact, nearly a dozen specialties experienced more than a 10 percent increase in burnout over those three years:

  • Family medicine (51.3 percent of physicians reported burnout in 2011 versus 63.0 percent in 2014)
  • General pediatrics (35.3 percent versus 46.3 percent)
  • Urology (41.2 percent versus 63.6 percent)
  • Orthopedic surgery (48.3 percent versus 59.6 percent)
  • Dermatology (31.8 percent versus 56.5 percent)
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation (47.4 percent versus 63.3 percent)
  • Pathology (37.6 percent versus 52.5 percent)
  • Radiology (47.7 percent versus 61.4 percent)
  • General surgery subspecialties (42.4 percent versus 52.7 percent).

Authors of the study also observed “substantial variation” in satisfaction rates based on specialty. In 2014, physicians across all specialties reported lower satisfaction with work-life balance, except for physicians in general surgery and OB/GYN.

“Burnout among physicians also varied by career stage, with the highest rate among midcareer physicians,” according to the study.

While burnout rates varied among physicians based on their career stages and specialties, authors of the study noted that burnout still proved to be more prevalent among physicians than the general U.S. working population. This is “a finding that persisted after adjusting for age, sex, hours worked and level of education,” they wrote. 

Read the full study for more observations on burnout.

Also, don’t miss these resources on burnout and physician wellness

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Continual board recertification is a major cause of burnout...
Checking little boxes forces us to think like the computer, taking away the joy of creative thought, and contributes -- at least in the case of this family doctor -- to burnout. Reducing hours at work helps combat fatigue and burnout. If we must check those boxes, I recommend shorter work weeks.
The burnout data will not be fully meaningful unless the survey distinguishes self employed doctors from those who are employed by people will less education than we have. I am a private practice neurologist and I have none of the so-called burnout symptoms, other than the usual frustrations of dealing with greedy insurance companies and greedy drug companies.
I may be old fashioned, but you do not commit 8 and more years of your productive life to becoming an 'entry-level' physician & surgeon without performing due diligence. That is unless you lived life without considering the consequences of every decision along the way. Which means, we all bought into this morass , and every one of us has the intelligence to just walk away from it if it aggrieves us. <br/> To me, every hoop thrown at me is an opportunity , and the blatantly inequitable demands need organized medicine to resist to the last breath, not to capitulate to. Individual docs controlling personal practice costs, offering concierge oriented service, and with less concern for the clock , or institution, will segment us back to personal care and personal relationships. Fewer patients per hour for every added layer of documentation is the trade-off. So that means dropping insurance contracts. Don't you realize they need your misguided participation to sell their product? Stop accepting the contracts. Walk away if you are dissatisfied. The same result ensues: fewer doctors for the population. Not a bad pay-back.
Looks like we're all fed up, across the board. When I read JAMA, which I do every issue, it sickens me to see the blather written by the PhDs, and yes, some MDs, who think they know how to fix medicine. Our profession as I have known it, and patients have known it, is gone. I'll hang on for awhile, but until I see some semblance of common sense returning, I'll do my best to discourage young people from following the road I did, a road that once held promise. We have let the insurers and the bureaucrats take over, and they have ruined an integral part of our economy and of our culture....
One thing is obvious: There has been a dramatic increase in job dissatisfaction over the last 3 years. The causes are OBVIOUS. Having expensive, non-user-friendly EMR's shoved down our throats followed by the expensive, time consuming, non-user-friendly & obnoxious ICD-10 in addition to the added busy-work of Board MOC has everything to do with our profession going in a downward spiral. These changes have NOTHING to do with quality of care. Both were pushed by the Medical Establishment at the AMA. I went from 3 1/2 patients an hour to 2 per hour after I was saddled with the EMR. I was board recertified in the AAFP every 7 years for 4 times, but dropped out rather than do the ongoing hassle of the MOC process. I know many older docs that had many good years left in them that quit rather than suffer the indignities of EMR and ICD-10. The AMA and organized medicine are part of the problem and are complicit with the Feds. Is there any surprise that a majority of physicians don't see the AMA as representing them and are not members?? I am a member of the AMA but would not be if our group did not pay my dues.
You think taking a test every 10 years is worse than being underpaid every day?
Shorter work weeks for even less money? How will the medical school debts be paid? I have already persuaded my children that Medical School is a bad deal. You are proposing making it worse. Doctors used to be respected. Now we are criminals to the government, careless greedy fools to the media, and absentee parents to our children. Working fewer hours is a great idea if someone will pay for itThe generation before us spent their retirements in Boca Raton and Scottsdale. We will spend our retirements clipping coupons.
I'm only in the AMA for the Group Insurance rates. Instead of holding seminars on burn-out, they should be fighting for our rightful status in the hierarchy. They should be instructing physicians in how to hold the rest of the system hostage: without physicians there is no system! Yet, we have allowed ourselves to become peons. The organization we should all belong to is AAPS (American Association of Physicians and Surgeons: They are the only organization actually fighting for physician rights. They follow the strategy of the Civil Rights organizations: they use the court system rather than asking for legislative relief.
I am retired since 2002 from OBGYN. Everyone tells me I retired at the right time. I believe there has been too much government interference in medical practice, especially the federal government. Each time a new law is enacted there there are more forms. Seeing an MD today is ridiculous. Now some designated worker comes out to do most of the computer entries, which repeats everything that was asked previously. Who is paying him or her? Old problems continue, professional liability issues being the gorilla in the room. Not only does the MD have to work to maintain knowledge and increase his/her skills, they have to deal with seeing more patients just to maintain an income. It was wrong to force the EHR into practice as quickly as it was done. It really has not helped. I do some voluteer practice. It is very confusing seeing a report from an ER now, as it is loaded with useless negative information, and discovering what the issues were and the treatment prescibed is most difficult. When I practiced, Medicine was most interesting, full of wondermant, and very satisfying. I do not believe that is the case today. It is a shame.


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Medical student Hank M. Spellman
Oct 11, 2018
AMA member and medical student Hank M. Spellman is already reaching patients through a nonprofit that raises awareness about public health issues.