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How Does Clinician Burnout Vary Between Specialties? January 21, 2019

Midtown East, Manhattan
How Does Clinician Burnout Vary Between Specialties?, Manhattan, New York

Today’s health care system is characterized by demanding schedules, intense time pressures, and high emotional intensity. Over time, these factors can cause clinician burnout, a long-term stress reaction marked by depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and feelings of incompetence. It is a widespread issue affecting an estimated 42% of U.S. physicians. However, studies suggest that burnout may affect specialties at different rates.

Clinician Burnout Rates by Specialty

In their 2018 report, Medscape surveyed 15,000 physicians from 29 specialties regarding clinician burnout and depression. This analysis found that professionals in critical care and neurology reported the highest rates of burnout at 48% each. Family medicine followed closely behind at 47%. Those in obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, and emergency medicine were between 45 and 46%.

Plastic surgeons had the lowest rates of clinician burnout at 23%. Dermatologists and pathologists both reported 32%. Ophthalmologists had the fourth lowest rate at 33%.

Reasons for Clinician Burnout

clinician burnoutAs previously mentioned, clinician burnout is often caused by busy schedules, time pressures, and emotional intensity. Medscape’s survey, however, offered additional reasons.

For instance, more than half of participants reported charting, paperwork, and other bureaucratic tasks as the primary source of their burnout. An additional 39% and 26% cited long work hours and lack of respect from administrators or fellow staff. Other common reasons included increasing computerization, inadequate compensation, and lack of autonomy.

Participants listed these same causes of burnout regardless of their specialty. Therefore, the dissimilar rates of burnout suggest that physicians may experience these stressors at different intensities. Likewise, there could be other factors not included in the survey that require further investigation.  

How Administration Can Help

Medscape also asked physicians what would alleviate their burnout. Over one-third of participants said that increased compensation would help. Another 31% asked for more manageable work schedules and call hours and 27% wanted fewer government regulations. Less than 25% of participants cited more reasonable patient loads, more paid time off, and greater flexibility.

If you are an administrator or employer, especially of clinicians in the most burnt out fields, listening to these requests is essential to increasing workplace morale. Additionally, you can encourage physicians to relax and recharge outside of the workplace. For example, you can host an after-hours yoga class to teach the staff about mindfulness. You can also take doctors to a holistic workshop or wellness retreat to help them prioritize self-care.


Metro Collaborative™ is a New York-based organization dedicated to reducing rates of clinician burnout nationwide. They regularly organize holistic workshops and Caribbean retreats designed with healing and wellness in mind. They also host six peer-to-peer dinners that help physicians build referral networks and promote cross-specialty understanding. For more on their annual events, visit them online or call (609) 876-9163 today.    

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