Physician burnout, especially burnout in women physicians, has been termed an epidemic and a significant concern for healthcare professionals, healthcare organizations, and society. This contributes to the increasing rate of distress, depression, attrition from the medical profession, and even suicide among physicians.
In addition, physician burnout has been associated with an exodus of doctors from the medical field. Retention of women physicians is especially critical in light of the future predicted physician shortage.
Moreover, a recent study in JAMA found that a significant proportion of female physicians either no longer work full-time or are considering cutting back – and this was published before the COVID Pandemic hit.
Women account for more than half of matriculating medical students within the United States, and over a third of practicing physicians. In the UK and Europe, just under half of doctors are women.
Women physicians still face disproportionate challenges within their medical careers compared to men. Unsurprisingly, those women who face more work-related stressors report less satisfaction with their careers.
It is important to create awareness of gender burnout and job satisfaction differences to better understand and address the full scope of physician burnout
Overall, the burnout rate among US physicians is around 45% and it is thought to be nearly twice as prevalent among physicians as among the general population. But there is a lack of studies that have focused on gender differences in burnout. From the available evidence:
Firstly, there is some suggestive evidence that women experience stress and burnout differently than their male colleagues. An early study of physician work-life reported a 60% excess of burnout in women versus men, which was determined by unequal patient expectations, role expectations outside of work, and personal experiences within the workplace.
Secondly, there is also evidence that women physicians in particular settings experience greater levels of burnout. For example, in studies in an academic medical center, primary care, and non-surgical specialists, women physicians experienced significantly higher rates of burnout than men physicians.
Does it need to be said that to become a parent is a basic human right? Sometimes it feels this needs explaining to hospital leadership and designers of residency/specialist training programs.
Motherhood has multiple implications for women in medicine which predisposes them to life stressors. These may include delays in childbirth/adoption, fertility challenges, pregnancy-related exposures (e.g. radiation) or complications of pregnancy.
Furthermore, physician mothers have reported that these issues are worsened by inadequate or poorly communicated parental leave policies within training programs, lack of appropriate protected time, and lack of facilities for expressing and storing breastmilk within the work environment.
Burnout in women physicians has been linked to gender-based discrimination, which has especially been reported by physicians who are mothers. Pregnancy, maternity leave, and breastfeeding have been associated with maternal discrimination, which is most frequently manifested as disrespectful treatment by colleagues, exclusion from administrative decision-making, and unequal pay and benefits.
Why is medicine seemingly so behind other industries which seem to look after their female colleagues who take on the significant burden and joy of childbearing and child-rearing?
Being a female doctor is not easy, more so if you are a mother and doctor. Why, in the year 2022, is medicine seemingly so behind other industries which seem to look after their female colleagues who take on the significant burden and joy of childbearing and child-rearing? And what can be done?
In Part 2, we explore How to Combat Woman Physician Burnout.