Burnout among physicians is an issue that has received increasing emphasis over the past several years. As measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory, burnout includes the elements of emotional exhaustion, defined as the “feeling of being emotionally overextended and exhausted by one’s work.” This response to burnout seems to be the most obvious and tends to be more common among women. A second component of burnout, depersonalization, reflects an “impersonal response toward recipients of one’s service, care treatment, or instruction.” This aspect of burnout tends to be more common among men but, for either gender, can make functioning as a physician extremely difficult. It can also be more difficult than emotional exhaustion to identify as being indicative of burnout. The third measure of burnout is the sense of professional accomplishment and competence and “success in having a beneficial impact on people.” This can be especially difficult for women who are more likely to experience “imposter syndrome,” no matter their level of accomplishment.
Burnout is more common among physicians than among other professionals. And women, in particular, seem to be at risk. However, the data in this area are not conclusive. Are women more likely to suffer burnout or be more willing to admit to it? Does the symptom of emotional exhaustion make burnout easier to recognize and diagnose? There are several areas that could make women physicians more at risk of developing burnout, such as demands at home and gendered expectations within and outside of the work place, unconscious bias and sexual harassment at work, and “imposter syndrome.” However, the relative impact of these, and potentially other sources of burnout, has not been identified. This significantly impacts any attempts at prevention. There is data, however, that women family physicians who have flexible hours and supportive work and family relationships are more likely to thrive (Phillips et al, 2016).
The consequences of burnout can be catastrophic. Burnout can lead to sleep disorders, depression, substance abuse, disruptive behavior, disciplinary action at work or toward a medical license, job loss, and ultimately, suicide. The risk for suicide among female physicians is significantly higher than the general population.
AMWA has been integrally involved in the conversation regarding burnout on a national level. Recent projects of AMWA in this area include:
- An AMWA resolution was adopted by the AMA House of Delegates this past June to study the availability of childcare services at healthcare institutions, a factor often cited by AMWA members as a source of stress.
- AMWA now has observership status at the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). The FSMB is developing a position paper on burnout that AMWA will be reviewing and providing feedback.
- AMWA will be co-sponsoring a symposium at the upcoming ACGME meeting, to discuss burnout among female residents. AMWA also participated in the recent ACMGE Symposium on Physician Well-Being.
- AMWA is submitting a grant proposal to the Physicians Foundation to research areas related to burnout among female physicians. [View the RFP]
- AMWA is a network organization within the National Academy of Medicine effort to address burnout, after having participated in the prior NAM meetings on this topic.
- AMWA participated in the AMA Joy in Medicine meeting this past April and will have representation on the Research Committee of the AMA Joy in Medicine program.
- AMWA has developed a Physicians in Crisis web-based resource
- AMWA has formed a Task Force on Depression and Suicidality
- AMWA’s Resident Division published a wellness brochure for women in medical training
- AMWA’s Graduate Medical Education Task Force will be addressing resident physician wellness
While many organizations are addressing the issue of burnout, AMWA is leading the discussion on how this issue affects female physicians at all levels of training. AMWA’s goal is to more accurately identify the risk for burnout and its consequences among female physicians, the risk factors leading to this, and what can be done to raise awareness and initiate prevention measures. If you are interested in participating, please contact Dr. Kim Templeton at email@example.com.