Here comes another physician survey from the good folks at Medscape. These are the same people who previously found that anesthesiologists as a group are among the happiest physicians in all of medicine. This time they conducted another study to explore the darker underside of medical practice: how much burnout exists within the medical field. The survey is based on responses from over 24,000 doctors that Medscape emailed. For full disclosure, I too participated in this survey but I didn't win that iPad mini they had promised to give to three lucky recipients who returned their email, dammit.
So how did anesthesiologists fare when it comes to feeling stressed? Not so good. While we may be happy, we also feel high levels of stress. In fact, anesthesiologists tied for fourth place as being the most stressed out, along with internists, general surgeons, and OB/GYN. Maybe it's those other burned out doctors that are giving us our stress ulcers. Emergency medicine and critical care came in as the most difficult fields while pediatricians were the most satisfied with their work.
According to this survey, 42% of anesthesiologists feel stressed out, which was defined as, "Loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment." More women were burned out than men, which may be due to more domestic obligations than their male counterparts. The life stage when anesthesiologists felt the worst are between the ages of 46-55 when 40% of us feel stressed. The younger doctors haven't practiced long enough to be burned out yet and the older ones have probably cut back hours and are looking forward to retirement. As somebody close to that middle cohort I totally agree with this one. This is the period when one has car payments, house payments, childcare and school expenses. It's easy to understand why the middle bracket will feel the most stress.
Maybe exercise will take the sting out of difficulties at work. Yes, but not by much. Fifty-seven percent of the stressed out anesthesiologists exercise at least twice a week as compared to 66% of their happier peers. About 35% of the overburdened doctors work out only once a week compared to 28% of the unstressed docs. So exercise does make some but not a big difference in feelings of work satisfaction. However even if one doesn't exercise much, one should try to watch his weight. Fifty percent of overweight anesthesiologists reported being burned out compared to 39%.
If exercise doesn't take your mind off how crummy your work is, maybe some spirituality might help. In this survey, that didn't pan out either. There were no differences in religious activities between the two groups. Just as many stressed out anesthesiologists participate in religious endeavors as their satisfied peers. However anesthesiologists in general are not that religious. While 88% of Americans report having a religious affiliation, about 30% of anesthesiologists say they have no religion at all.
So here comes the $64,000 question. Does money make you happier? Of course it does. Whoever said money can't buy happiness has never had enough money. Of those anesthesiologists reporting that they feel burned out, 35% said they had minimal savings in their bank accounts. That is nearly twice as many as those who are happy at work. Sixty percent of burned out doctors say they have an adequate amount of money to fall back on while 76% of non stressed doctors say they have adequate savings. Somehow that isn't terribly surprising.
So there you have it. The key to not stressing out at work as an anesthesiologist is to 1) be a man, 2) stay thin, and 3) have lots of money. Easy. Oh, and try to stay away from the nasty stressed out surgeons.