How to beat burnout
Being a healer is a rewarding profession, but it also comes at a cost. Physicians have some of the highest rates of professional burnout, and a new study picks apart what is contributing to burnout, job and life satisfaction, and perceptions of work-life balance among pediatricians.
The study, published in Pediatrics, polled 840 early career pediatricians who completed residencies between 2002 and 2004 on the balance they achieve between personal and professional obligations, their current level of burnout in their work, and their satisfaction with life in general. Using data from the American Academy of Pediatrics Pediatrician Life and Career Experience Study (PLACES), researchers found that while the results were generally positive, more pediatricians reported satisfaction with their work than their life, with 83% reporting career satisfaction compared to 71% reporting life satisfaction. A mere 43% reported achieving work-life balance, and 30% were already reporting burnout in their careers.
Medical professionals have long been known to experience high rates of burnout in their careers due to the demands of their profession. Compassion fatigue, long hours, high stress, workforce shortages, increased patient complexity, use of electronic health technology, and more all contribute and can lead to burnout and medical errors.
The report notes that previous studies have suggested that the prevalence of burnout is highest in early- to mid-career phases, adding that early-career pediatricians are particularly vulnerable because they experience so many transitions personally, from multiple job changes earlier in their career, to adding marriage and children in their personal lives.
The majority of the study participants—44.4% general pediatricians and 36.1% subspecialists—were female (60%), non-Hispanic white (64%), married (89%), in good health (71%), and had children (86%). Seven percent reported frequently feeling sad or depressed and 38% experienced a negative life event in the previous year.
In terms of their careers, 82.4% of respondents reported feeling as though they had autonomy in their clinical decision-making and 68.3% felt that they had access to adequate resources for patient care. More than half of pediatricians polled (58.2%) reported working less than 50 hours per week.
Those that reported higher rates of burnout had several factors in common, according to the study. Pediatricians at risk for burnout had experienced negative life events, reported feeling sad or depressed, worked in chaotic work settings, or had worked in their current position for 4 or more years. In comparison, pediatricians who were in excellent or very good health; had support from colleagues; and reported access to adequate resources for patient care were at lower risk of burnout.
In terms of work-life balance, the study identified physician health, adequate exercise, personal support from colleagues, autonomy in clinical decision-making, and adequate resources for patient care among the factors associated with higher perceptions of work-life balance. Female pediatricians and those reporting less sleep, more chaotic work environments, and working more than 50 hours per week negatively affected work-life balance, according to the report.
Similar factors were reported in terms of career satisfaction, with working 4 or more years in their current position, support from colleagues, autonomy, and adequate resources associated with greater career satisfaction, while female gender and depression contributed to lower satisfaction levels.
Life satisfaction was similar, with 4 or more years in their position, adequate patient care resources, and support from colleagues ranking high among contributors to high satisfaction, along with advance notice of work schedules. Inadequate sleep, negative life events, and feelings of sadness or depression contributed negatively to feelings of life satisfaction, according to the report.