Physicians Anonymous

Female physician burnout

Combating female physician burnout
Combating female physician burnout

Female physician burnout

In Part 1 we explored the epidemic of female physician burnout, and some underlying causes. In Part 2 we illustrate general and woman-specific strategies to combat female physician burnout.

Despite progress in equality, women physicians still face disproportionate challenges within their medical careers compared to men. Moreover, one study of physician work-life reported a 60% excess of burnout in women versus 45% overall. The study suggested that this excess was determined by unequal patient expectations, role expectations outside of work, and personal experiences within the workplace.

Why does practicing medicine take a greater toll on women?

One factor appears to be that, on average, women physicians take more time per patient and then spend more time documenting the case in electronic medical records. Their hard work pays off for patients: Some quality metrics for patient outcomes indicate that the performance of women physicians is higher than men – for example, older hospitalized patients treated by female internists have lower mortality and readmission rates.

But while they are staying up later at night documenting and charting, women in many households are also shouldering a disproportionate role in non-professional responsibilities. The differences between genders are often astonishing. One recent study reported that, during the pandemic, women physicians were more likely than male physicians to be responsible for childcare or schooling (25% versus 1%) and household tasks (31% percent versus 7%).

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.

But while they are staying up later at night documenting and charting, women in many households are also shouldering a disproportionate role in non-professional responsibilities.

Do burned out female doctors seek help?

We’re always telling our patients that prevention (or early intervention) is better than cure. Yet do we apply the same rules to ourselves?

A study of female physicians found that only 6% of those with a mental health diagnosis reported it to their state licensing board. The women responded that they’d never want a diagnosis on their records for fear of stigma. 

So 94% of female physicians with a diagnosis don’t disclose for reasons of fear and stigma. This systemic barrier makes it harder to get help which in turn worsens the problem.

How to tackle female physician burnout

General strategies

Leading lights in the physician burnout field, Drs Shanafelt and Noseworthy have published nine organizational strategies for reducing physician burnout. 

These are to:

  • Acknowledge and assess the problem
  • Harness the power of leadership
  • Develop and implement targeted work unit interventions,
  • Cultivate community at work
  • Use rewards and incentives wisely
  • Align values and strengthen the culture
  • Promote flexibility and work-life integration
  • Provide resources to promote resilience and self-care, and
  • Facilitate and fund organizational science.

Specific approaches to female physician burnout

In addition to the common-sense approach described above, women physicians with burnout have unique needs requiring bespoke solutions. These include:

  • Recognition of the challenges for woman physicians
  • Addressing barriers to career satisfaction, work-life balance, mental and physical health
  • Identification and reduction of gender and maternal bias
  • Mentorship and sponsorship opportunities
  • Family leave, lactation, and childcare policies and support.

In addition, gaps in research must be addressed to inform best practices for measuring and addressing burnout in women physicians.

Conclusions

Women physicians have unique challenges and resultantly higher rates of burnout than men. These require a concerted effort not just to tackle burnout in women physicians, and the exodus of female doctors, but also to redress historic gender imbalances and discrimination.

Posted by / March 15, 2022 / 0 Comments
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Dr Corrigan

Dr Corrigan

A recovering physician who left medicine after burning out and more. Overachiever. Impostor syndrome. Addict. Had never heard of Corrigan's Secret Door* until it was too late. Co-founded Physicians Anonymous with intention to solve physician burnout, mental illness, and addiction. Hopes to prevent future medical career disasters through peer support, advocacy, policy change, and innovation. * https://physiciansanonymous.org/corrigans-secret-door-and-other-stories/

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