Yes, Physician Burn-Out Is Real

They say dentists have a high rate of suicide due to the anxiety associated with their jobs. A criminal justice professor at Wayne State University, Steven Stack, studied the correlation between dentistry and suicide. In 1996 he conducted a study that cited several years of previous research on suicide rates among dentists and proved that being a dentist increased one’s risk of suicide by 564 percent!

Job burn-out is a real thing. Or, in our case, physician burn-out. As future doctors, we like to think that once we become board-certified snazzy physicians, life will be perfect. We will love our jobs that we’ve worked so hard towards, and every day at the job will feel like a true gift. Well, not to be the bearer of bad news, but that won’t necessarily be the case. So I am here to expose the ugly truth of medicine; ie., the medical specialties yielding the highest reported rate of burn-out.

According to the Mayo Clinic, job burn-out is defined as the following: “Job burn-out is a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”

The Mayo Clinic then states several factors that may lead to job burn-out. To name a few, these can be, but are not limited to: Lack of control, unclear job expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, lack of social support or work-life imbalance. The Mayo Clinic recommends that if one is beginning to feel cynical at work or is undergoing a drastic change in eating/sleeping habits, among other possible conditions, it is imperative to seek out his/her doctor or mental health provider before symptoms get any worse and may negatively affect his/her health.

A national survey published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012 reported that US physicians suffer more burn-out than other American workers. An editorial published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine reported burn-out rates ranging from 30% to 65% across all medical specialties. A 2015 Medscape survey reports the highest burn-out rates to be found in critical care (53%) and emergency medicine (52%). Also, half of all family physicians, internists, and general surgeons reported burn-out. Additionally, as reported in the Medscape survey, burn-out rates of internists and family physicians rose from 43% in 2013 to 50%, reporting a 16% increase in only 2 years.

Another interesting fact – in the Medscape Physician Compensation Report from 2014, when the doctors surveyed were asked if they would choose medicine again if given the chance, family physicians and internists were two of the highest ranked specialties to answer yes to that question. Ironically, they were also two of the highest ranked specialties to say that they would not choose their own specialty again.

So which are the least “burn-out prone” specialties, you may ask? According to the 2015 Medscape survey these “golden” specialties are dermatology (37%), psychiatry (38%), and pathology (39%).


For an overview of the burn-out rates across all of the medical specialties, check out this graph which has been taken from the article: Physician Burnout: It Just Keeps Getting Worse – Medscape – Jan 26, 2015.

Based on observation, if you are looking for a specialty that will be least likely to burn you out, maybe stay away from the fields of emergency and primary care. But then again, who else is going to save the 8 year old who swallowed a marble while the babysitter was on her phone texting? Ah, the thrill.


Physician Burnout: It Just Keeps Getting Worse – Medscape – Jan 26, 2015.

Image Source: Physician Burnout: It Just Keeps Getting Worse – Medscape – Jan 26, 2015 (same article as above).

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Dahlia Pasik, "Almost" MD

Dahlia Pasik grew up in Long Beach, NY, a few short blocks from the beach. She graduated with a Bachelors in Biology from Stern College of Yeshiva University NY, NY and is currently an MD Candidate of the class of 2020 at Technion American Medical School in Haifa, Israel - where she gets to enjoy a local beach there as well. Aside from her constant indulgence of living in beach towns, medicine has been her calling since elementary school, and she looks forward to fulfilling her dream of healing the world.