Research paper suggests female physicians more likely to experience burnout

Female doctor holding stethoscope.
Female doctor holding stethoscope. Science Photo Library / Getty Images

A new research paper for the National Academy of Medicine suggests that an alarming number of doctors are experiencing burnout and are dying by suicide, and not enough research is being conducted to delve into gender-based differences.

Associate professor at Western University and a co-author on the discussion paper, Dr. Javeed Sukhera, told Global News Radio 980 CFPL that the prevalence of burnout may be as much as 20 to 60 per cent higher among female physicians when compared to their male counterparts.

“We were actually struck by how little burnout research actually considers those gender differences and how few surveys actually include demographics so that we can begin to parse out exactly what those differences are and whether or not they’re widespread,” Sukhera said on London Live with Mike Stubbs on Wednesday.

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Burnout is defined as a triad of symptoms: physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism or feeling disconnected, and feeling ineffective or incapable of accomplishing things.

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“Women are much more likely to experience symptoms in the category of emotional exhaustion than men,” he explained, “and women’s experiences in the workplace are very different than men, particularly when it comes to issues related to gender bias, discrimination and harassment.”

The paper stated that burnout, depression, and suicidal ideation are “separate but related entities” and cited a 2004 report in the American Journal of Psychiatry that found that female physicians are 2.27 times more likely to die by suicide than women who are not physicians, and that male physicians are 1.41 times more likely to die by suicide than men who are not physicians.

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“We’re seeing a lot more of it. There’s a culture in medicine, that is in society, that asking for help or looking for help is perceived as being weak,” Sukhera explained.

“But it’s important that we break that stigma and make sure our friends, colleagues, and coworkers know that asking for help is a sign of strength and they shouldn’t feel like this is their fault because it really is something that comes from a system that can be quite toxic.”

The paper suggests several strategies to addressing the issue, including improving work environments, offering more career development opportunities, and improving well-being of students and trainees in the learning environment. Sukhera added that women need to be involved in creating these solutions.

“We need to study it more but we also need to address some of the structures within workplaces that make burnout worse, particularly for women,” he said.

“Things like paid leave, things like caregiver responsibilities, things like child care, as well as the issues I mentioned earlier related to sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.”

Sukhera is also challenging other researchers to go further, and look at burnout in relation to age, race, and ethnicity.

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WATCH: (October, 2018) Canadian physicians experiencing burnout, depression: Study

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Canadian physicians experiencing burnout, depression: Study

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