Physicians Anonymous

Workaholism in Medical Doctors

Workaholism in Medical Doctors

Medical doctors are known for our long hours and unwavering dedication to our patients. But what happens when this level of commitment turns into a destructive force? Workaholism, the compulsive drive to work excessive hours, is a growing concern in the medical profession, with a significant number of doctors struggling with the demands of our careers.

The healthcare industry is notorious for its demanding schedules, with many doctors working 80-hour weeks and serial overnight shifts. This level of commitment is often seen as a badge of honor, and doctors who work the longest hours are often held in high regard. Selflessness is applauded and rewarded. 

But when work becomes a top priority, and the doctor’s personal life and well-being are neglected, the consequences can be serious.


We have previously suggested that Medicine (being a doctor) can be addictive, especially in high doses over time.

The term “workaholism” was coined in 1971 by minister and psychologist Wayne Oates, who described workaholism as “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly”

It’s not just long hours on the job: New research is leading to a nuanced and dynamic understanding of workaholism. 

'Diagnostic' criteria

Modern ‘diagnostic’ criteria are:

  • Feeling compelled to work because of internal pressures.
  • Having persistent thoughts about work when not working.
  • Working beyond what is reasonably expected of the worker (as established by the requirements of the job or basic economic needs) despite the potential for negative consequences (e.g., marital issues).

It is important to point out that workaholism should not be confused with simply spending an inordinate amount of time working.


One of the key drivers of workaholism in physicians is the culture of the medical profession. Doctors are often seen as heroes, who are expected to put our patients first, at the expense of our own health and well-being. This leads many doctors to work long hours, neglecting our personal lives and physical and emotional health.

We are pre-selected to be hard-working, conscientious, and committed. A long list of sick people is one way to keep us engaged for long hours.

Secondly, our personalities play a role. We are pre-selected to be hard-working, conscientious, and committed. A long list of sick people is one way to keep us engaged for long hours. This is ok in the short term, but then we get used to it, it becomes habit, and before we know it 80 hours a week is “normal”.

Consequences of workaholism

Research supports the idea that workaholism has negative consequences. Meta-analytic findings overwhelmingly show that workaholism is associated with negative outcomes for the individual, for the workaholic’s family, and for the organization. This is crucial to address in medicine where lives are at stake.

1. Burnout

One of the biggest challenges facing workaholic doctors is burnout. This condition is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. 

Resultantly, doctors who struggle with workaholism are at a higher risk of burnout, which can lead to decreased job satisfaction, decreased patient satisfaction, and a decline in the quality of care provided. In severe cases, burnout can also lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

We are in the middle of a burnout epidemic, with recent surveys suggesting >60% of us have features of burnout!

2. Relationships

Workaholism can also have a negative impact on doctors’ personal relationships. 

Doctors who work long hours and constantly prioritize our work over our personal lives may struggle to maintain meaningful relationships with our partners, family, and friends. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, and a decline in overall well-being.

3. Health

In addition, workaholic doctors are also at a higher risk of physical health problems. Prolonged exposure to stress and lack of sleep can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other chronic health conditions. This can have a significant impact on the doctor’s ability to provide high-quality care to our patients.

The Link between Mental Health and Workaholism in Physicians

The demanding nature of the medical profession can put physicians under significant stress, leading to a high prevalence of workaholism and a decline in mental health.

Workaholism, the compulsive drive to work excessive hours, has been linked to a range of mental health issues, including burnout, depression, anxiety, and even suicide. Moreover, negative physical health outcomes have also been reported.

Workaholism, the compulsive drive to work excessive hours, has been linked to a range of mental health issues, including burnout, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

Overcoming physician workaholism

The link between workaholism and mental health is complex and can be difficult to break. However, there are steps that physicians can take to improve our mental health and reduce our risk of burnout.

The first step is to recognize the problem and seek help. Many doctors are reluctant to admit that we are struggling, for fear of damaging our reputation or appearing weak. However, seeking help from a counselor or therapist can be a powerful tool in overcoming workaholism and improving mental health.

Next, it’s important for physicians to prioritize self-care. This can include taking time for hobbies and interests outside of work, engaging in physical activity, and getting enough sleep. By taking care of our own physical and emotional health, doctors can be better equipped to provide high-quality care to our patients.

In addition, it’s important for physicians to set clear boundaries between work and personal life. This can include scheduling time off and refusing to work excessive hours, as well as saying “no” to additional responsibilities when we become overwhelmed. By setting clear boundaries, physicians can help reduce our risk of burnout and improve our overall well-being.

Finally, it’s essential for healthcare organizations to provide support and resources to help their employees maintain a healthy work-life balance. This can include offering flexible work schedules, providing access to mental health resources, and promoting a culture of self-care and well-being.

Conclusion: Overcoming physician workaholism

In conclusion, workaholism is a well-established concern in the medical profession, with doctors facing significant challenges in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. However, by recognizing the problem, prioritizing self-care, setting clear boundaries, and seeking help from healthcare organizations, workaholic doctors can overcome this issue and provide the best possible care to our patients.

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