Physician burnout varies by specialty

Burnout among physicians improved slightly over the last few years, but not all specialties have seen much of a difference, according to data published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Even worse, some specialties still had burnout rates above 50 percent in 2017-––with physicians reporting at least one symptom of burnout, such as emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, the triennial study found. Overall, 43.9 percent of physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout in 2017, according to the study.

Specialties with the highest prevalence of burnout symptoms in 2017:

  • Emergency medicine––54.9 percent
  • Obstetrics and gynecology––51.4 percent
  • Family medicine––50.5 percent
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation––49.6 percent
  • Neurology––49.4 percent
  • Radiology-––48.5 percent

From 2011 to 2017, many specialties improved with lower burnout prevalence. In general, most specialties saw a spike of burnout in the 2014 study, which may correspond with increased regulations and the widespread adoption of electronic health records, the study found.

Among the most improved, burnout symptoms in anesthesiology dropped from 48.2 percent in 2011 and 55.2 percent in 2014 to 39.7 percent in 2017. Emergency medicine, the specialty with the highest prevalence of burnout (54.9 percent), dropped from 71.6 percent in 2014 and 65.7 percent in 2011.

Also of note, the pediatric subspecialty dropped to 33.5 percent in 2017 from 46.9 percent in 2014 and 40 percent in 2011. Orthopedic surgery burnout rates declined to 39.1 percent in 2017 from a whopping 59.6 percent in 2014 and 48.3 percent in 2011.

Still, many specialties have remained somewhat constant in prevalence of burnout over time, including preventive medicine/occupational medicine, neurosurgery and family medicine.

Specialties with the lowest prevalence of burnout symptoms in 2017:

  • Preventive medicine/occupational medicine––29.6 percent
  • Pediatric subspecialty––33.5 percent
  • Psychiatry––36.9 percent
  • Pathology––38.7 percent
  • Other––­­38.9 percent
  • Neurosurgery––39 percent

The findings come at a time when more institutions and technologies are being aimed at combatting physician burnout. In particular, one AI-based physician shift scheduling company is hoping to analyze one million shift hours to find the root causes of burnout.