Women, critical care physicians report highest level of burnout

Critical care physicians report the highest level of burnout, with bureaucratic tasks and long work hours contributing to feelings of dread, discouragement and anxiety, finds a new report from Medscape. 

In a survey of more than 12,000 physicians across 29 specialties conducted between August 30 and November 5, 2020, providers noted that the stress of treating COVID-19 patients did not substantially increase burnout – although it did exacerbate existing issues.

Only about half of the physicians reported they were happy with their work life in 2020, compared with 69% of them pre-pandemic.

“The incidence of burnout and depression among physicians has been a concern for years, and the pandemic only made a bad situation worse,” said Leslie Kane, senior director, Medscape Business of Medicine, in a statement.   

“This is especially true in frontline specialties and in female physicians, who we know have borne the brunt of at-home schooling and other disruptions,” Kane added.  


The survey described burnout as long-term, unresolved job-related stress leading to exhaustion, cynicism, detachment and a lack of a sense of personal accomplishment.   

Nearly three-quarters of physicians age 25-54 and two-thirds of those age 55-73 said burnout has had a negative effect on their personal relationships.  

“I have no energy when I get home, and I feel like I’m ignoring my family, but I need time to decompress and process what I dealt with during the day,” said one respondent, an oncologist.  

Roughly one in five physicians reported experiencing clinical depression, with 69% saying they had “colloquial depression,” or feeling generally blue. Many noted burnout as a major contributor to their depression.

The highest-ranked specialties for burnout this year were critical care, rheumatology, infectious diseases, urology and pulmonary medicine. However, suicidal thoughts were most common among OB/GYN, orthopedics, otolaryngology, plastic surgery and diabetes specialists.  

About 51% of women physicians said they were burned out, compared with 36% of men – a greater disparity than usual, the report noted.

When it comes to addressing burnout, exercise, talking with family members or close friends, isolation, and sleep were popular ways to cope. Physicians noted that increased compensation would help reduce burnout, as would a more manageable work schedule, greater respect from colleagues and increased control or autonomy.  

As one gastroenterologist noted, “an EHR that actually works right” would help too.   


Issues around physician burnout have loomed particularly large amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with clinicians getting pushed to the max while balancing technology offerings and scant resources. 

At the same time, tools can be used to alleviate burnout: ambient EHR documentation and automation play roles in helping to streamline the process and allow clinicians to focus on patient care.  


“Post-pandemic, healthcare organizations and the medical community have an opportunity to rethink how best to support physicians so that we start to see meaningful reductions in burnout, depression and suicide rates moving forward,” said Kane.


Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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