Burnout is often associated with the stresses of work, and, due to a variety of factors, many medical professionals will feel burned out at some point in their careers. But the phenomenon is especially prevalent among female physicians.
What is “Burnout”?
Burnout is defined as a combination of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, a sense of being ineffective at work, and a disconnection from your own thoughts and feelings that researchers call “depersonalization.” Experts differ on what conditions are behind burnout. Whatever the cause, job burnout can affect your physical and mental health.
Burnout among female doctors
According to a 2019 study in the National Academy of Medicine, burnout among female doctors is disproportionately higher than it is among male physicians. For example, the paper cites a 2018 survey of 15,000 physicians that found that self-reported burnout rates among female doctors were ten points higher than they were among male physicians. Another study (The Physician Work Life Study, 2000), used a random sample of over 5,700 physicians to discover that females were 60% more likely than men to report feeling burned out.
Female physicians are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their jobs and to take long-term sick leave, which is often an indication of burnout. It’s also noted in these studies that women exhibit burnout differently than men do. Female physicians are more likely to report being emotionally exhausted, while men tend to experience depersonalization at work.
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Burnout in the medical profession
Researchers also proposed some reasons why the male and female experiences may be so different in the medical field. According to a study in The Lancet, women tend to pursue careers in specialties that pay less and are more flexible, because while employed full time, they often need to care for someone at home, whether a child, multiple children, or an aging parent. Female physicians are more likely to perform most of the work within their homes, leading to more time pressures, more emotional exhaustion, less free time, and fewer opportunities for rest or self-care. In fact, on average, female physicians who are employed full time spend an additional 8.5 hours per week on childcare and other domestic duties.
In addition, once in practice, they often have different expectations put upon them. Patients have expectations of female doctors that would require them to spend up to 10 more minutes with each patient than a male doctor would. Patients tend to share more information with female physicians and expect a higher level of compassion, which, in a practice or hospital setting, means more time per patient. This often translates to busier and emotionally exhausting days for female physicians.
Strategies for mitigating burnout
Prevention and mitigation of burnout among female physicians is crucial. First, organizations need to be aware of the gender gap and develop interventions focused on institutional factors. Hospitals, training programs and medical schools all need to intervene where there may be discrimination or harassment, and work to eliminate biases among their employees and the public whom they serve.
Health care institutions should prioritize the mental well-being of all physicians and offer support and resources when they can. This support needs to be offered throughout a physician’s life, as the threat of burnout is real for physicians of all ages.
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While societal expectations that dictate women’s disproportionate responsibilities in the home may be slow to change, women should feel empowered by their peers and employers to speak up for their needs and should be able to expect support in their efforts to find balance. Additionally, institutions can offer flexible work hours and family leave that allow caregivers to care for dependent children or parents without negative career consequences.
Financial Planning to alleviate stress and burnout
Planning ahead early in one’s medical career can greatly reduce some of the stressors that contribute to burnout. Financial advisors can help female physicians plan and organize their finances so they can pay for help at home, take much needed breaks from medicine and save for major life goals.
Financial planning for physicians is a specialized field, and at Blankinship & Foster, we understand and cater to the particular needs of female physicians.