Burnout is an often unrecognized problem in the physician community.

Performing Procedures

GI Physician Burnout by the Numbers and Ways to Rebound

80 percent of GI doctors surveyed reported some degree of anxiety about the future of their profession, given COVID-19.

Work-life balance is a top concern among gastroenterologists, according to the 2021 MedScape Physician Lifestyle and Happiness Report. About half of GI physicians surveyed said they would accept less pay for better work-life balance.

In addition, 80 percent of GI doctors surveyed reported some degree of anxiety about the future of their profession, given COVID-19 and a pandemic that's showing stubborn staying power even as vaccinations increase and new signs of optimism emerge.

These findings mirror the rise in reported feelings of burnout among gastroenterologists since the pandemic began.

National Public Health Week is April 6-12 and this year's theme is "Building Bridgets to Better Health." The outreach effort highlights several public health topics, including the mental health of healthcare workers. We wanted to shed light on common, though potentially unrecognized, mental health struggles of the physician community and provide information on where to find help.   

Burnout has long been an issue for physicians. The American Medical Association reported a 50 percent burnout rate among physicians from 2012 to 2017.

Gastroenterologists were not immune before, and it appears from the latest MedScape report that the problems may be intensifying.

Burnout by the Numbers

Approximately 12,000 physicians from more than 29 specialties responded to the MedScape survey last year. Results were published in February.

Prior to the pandemic, 81 percent of gastroenterologists reported feeling happy outside of work. But that percentage decreased to just over half (54 percent) as the pandemic wore on, according to the MedScape study.

Less than half of infectious disease physicians, intensivists, and pulmonologists reported being happy outside of work at the time the survey was published.

A similar percentage of gastroenterologists — 40 percent vs. 36 percent — reported feeling burned out or both burned out and depressed in 2020 as they did in 2019. But, for those who are experiencing burnout, a higher number said the feeling is having a greater impact on their lives outside of work, and 15 percent report wanting to leave medicine altogether.

Ways to Cope

Burnout was affecting gastroenterologists even before the pandemic, according to the survey. The current survey results show spending too much time on bureaucratic demands and long workdays as the biggest causes of burnout.

Effective ways for dealing with burnout include exercise and talking with family members or friends. Some gastroenterologists, however, report turning to isolation, junk food, or alcohol to cope with work pressures.

During a presentation at the American College of Gastroenterology annual meeting in October 2019, Dr. David Haas of Yale New Haven Hospital outlined several ways GI physicians can reduce burnout in their practices. His takeaways included recommendations to hire medical scribes and mid-level providers for a practice.

Additional burnout resources include a toolbox from ACG with physician wellness tips. Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News has also published articles about dealing with physician burnout.

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