Nearly half of radiologists report feeling burned out, higher than the average physician

Radiologists rank among the top five physician specialties that are most burned out, according to a new survey.

Medscape queried more than 15,000 physicians across 29 specialties for their “National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020: The Generational Divide.” The annual report was published Jan. 15.

A total of 46% of imaging professionals reported feeling burned out, tied with diabetes and endocrinology doctors, family medicine physicians, OB/GYNs and rheumatologists. By comparison, urologists reported the highest levels of burnout (54%), while plastic surgeons (37%) are least stressed with their job.

Taking a step back, radiologists are more burned out than the average physician. Medscape found that 42% of all doctors surveyed said they're experiencing such workplace fatigue.

The top drivers of burnout have not changed over the years, according to the report. An overwhelming majority of doctors (55%) cited “too many bureaucratic tasks,” such as charting and paperwork, as the top contributor pushing them over the edge. After that, the most cited factors were “spending too many hours at work” (33%), lack of respect from coworkers (32%) and an increasing reliance on electronic health records in clinical practice (30%).

Burnout has become such a bear on physicians that about half across all generations (millennials, Generation X and baby boomers) said they would take a pay cut in exchange for more free time.

“Expectations of what a career as a physician in the 2020’s are changing,” Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, CEO of the Medical Group Management Association, said in the report. “Physicians recognize that seeing a smaller number of patients may give them more time with patients and the ability to practice medicine at the height of their license, reducing non-clinical hours and enhancing personal satisfaction, which ultimately may decrease burnout and extend their career life.”

On a positive note, physicians are not overwhelmingly turning to self-destructive mechanisms to deal with their burnout. About 45% of respondents said they isolate themselves from others, tied with exercise as the most popular outlet for relieving the pressures of work. Alternatively, nearly one-quarter of doctors said they drink alcohol and 33% binge eat to battle burnout.

Despite turning to somewhat healthy outlets, Wendy Dean, MD, founder of MoralInjury.healthcare, dedicated to ending moral injury in medicine, said more needs to be done to help these struggling professionals.

“Healthcare systems have looked for fixes for physician distress, focusing on wellness (yoga, retreats and self-care lessons), but finding solutions requires that we address the problem for what it really is: a challenge inherent in the structure of the healthcare industry,” she said.

Read Health Imaging’s coverage of last year’s Medscape report here.