Is work life getting better for doctors? Survey suggests slight improvement

Doctor pausing with a frown on his face
Despite all the talk about burnout, a new survey suggests work life has gotten better for some doctors. (Getty/Wavebreakmedia)

Compared to two years ago, fewer doctors feel overworked and fewer are considering leaving the profession early.

That's according to a survey of more than 3,700 physicians across the country by locumstory.com, a website about locum tenens that is sponsored by CompHealth and Weatherby Healthcare, two physician staffing companies.

The survey paints a slightly rosier picture of physicians’ work life than a similar survey taken in 2016. But it still indicates the demand and workload of the profession is taking a toll on doctors’ mental health.

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Among its responses, the survey found: 

  • 56% of physicians feel overworked compared to 65% in the survey two years ago. “This doesn’t mean overwork isn’t an issue, but it appears to be moving in a positive direction," the report said.  
  • More than half of respondents (55%) say they have less free time outside of work than when they first began their career. While not great, that number is an improvement as well from the 64% who reported less free time in the 2016 survey.
  • The number of physicians considering leaving their profession prior to age 65 dropped by 2% since 2016. However, more than half (53%) of physicians are still considering leaving early due to workload, similar to the 55% in 2016.
  • The survey found 46% of physicians said they spend less time with patients now than when they started their careers, but that shows an improvement over 58% in 2016.

RELATED: Physician burnout—1 in 5 doctors want to reduce their clinical hours

Work is still taking a toll on many physicians. And doctors don’t always recognize burnout within themselves, the survey found. Some 74% of physicians reported frequently seeing symptoms of burnout in colleagues, but only 52% said they regularly feel burnout themselves.

Irritability toward co-workers and apathy toward patients and the job were the most common symptoms of burnout. Some 40% of physicians said burnout impacts their job satisfaction and more than a quarter said it impacts family relationships.

Few doctors have sought assistance. Some 51% of respondents said their workload has impacted their mental health, but only 17% have sought help. Two-thirds of doctors impacted by burnout would not consider meeting with a mental health professional at all, while 53% said discussing mental health is taboo.

For some, the toll is enormous. Six percent of physicians said they have contemplated suicide because of the demands of their profession, and just over 10% take medication for anxiety or depression.

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