Report Finds Pandemic Intensified Burnout Among Specialties While Radiology Sees Reprieve

A new survey has found that COVID pressures have hit workplace fatigue among many physician specialties, but radiology seems to be relieved of this.

Medscape found that burnout rates landed at 42% concerning 29 areas of medical expertise, according to a survey of 12,339 doctors, between August and September.

Critical care (51%), rheumatology (50%), and infectious disease (49%) all saw burnout increase by at least 4 percentage points compared to 2019. Radiology, on the other hand, experienced a 10 percentage-point drop in 2020, down to 36%, the survey discovered.

Female physicians have been hit hardest by the pandemic, Medscape noted, with roughly 51% reporting symptoms of burnout compared to 36% among their male counterparts. Women in medicine have typically reported higher rates of fatigue in Medscape polls, but the gender gap appeared to worsen in 2020. Numerous recent writings in journals have highlighted COVID’s outsized impact on female radiologists, often forced to take on additional homecare duties without a commensurate decrease in work responsibilities.

“It’s already known that women assume more responsibilities in the home than do men,” Carol Bernstein, MD, a psychiatrist with Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told the publication. “The pressures have increased during COVID-19: having to be their child’s teacher during homeschooling; no childcare; and the grandparents can’t babysit. Those all bring enormous pressure and burdens.”

Although 79% of physicians said their burnout began before the pandemic, factors such as lack of protective equipment, long hours, and grief over losing patients have only worsened things since March. Happiness among doctors dropped from 69% prior to the pandemic down to 49%, the survey found.

About 20% of physicians said they’ve experienced clinical depression, while 69% said they’ve suffered the “colloquial” variety (feeling down, sad). 13% of docs said they’ve had thoughts of suicide, including about 12% of the radiologists surveyed. OB/GYN specialists topped the list at 19%.

In comparison, a recent report from Medscape found that only about 6% of radiologists are anxious about their future, placing the specialty near the bottom of the list, just ahead of plastic surgeons and nephrologists at 4%. Rheumatologists reported the highest level of anxiety at 14%.

Read more on Medscape to find the full 2020 report.