Does My Spine Doctor Suffer Burnout?

Survey results reveal the gravity of burnout among physicians. What to do if you believe your care is at risk.

Most people know medicine is a stressful field, but an online survey of physicians sought to better understand the toll of physician burnout in the United States. The survey revealed that most doctors are burned out or depressed—and some spine specialties are more affected than others.

matchsticks with one burntThere are many factors that contribute to physician burnout. Photo Source:

The Medscape National Report on Physician Burnout and Depression describes burnout as feeling physically, emotionally, or mentally exhausted; frustrated about work; and doubt about work experience and value.

Why is it important to understand doctors’ experience with burnout? Because evidence shows that high physician burnout relates are linked to reduced patient care and safety.

Survey Illuminates a Problem for American Doctors and Patients

Released in January 2018, the Medscape National Report on Physician Burnout and Depression included results from an online survey of more than 15,500 doctors from 29 specialties.

Forty-two percent of doctors reported experiencing burnout, another 15% reported depression, and 14% of respondents said they had both burnout and depression. The highest rates of burnout were from women (48% women versus 38% men) and mid-career doctors (aged 45-50).

While 40% of physicians who reported depression said it did not affect their patient care, other respondents revealed a different story. For example, 33% of physicians reporting depression said they are more likely to be exasperated by patients. Moreover, 32% of physicians reporting depression said they were less engaged with patients, nearly 15% admitted that their depression increased the chance of errors they wouldn't typically make, and 5% connected their depression to errors that may have harmed a patient.

Spine Specialists Have Split Results

The Medscape survey found that certain specialties were more susceptible to burnout than others, and spine specialists had mixed results. Neurologists had among the highest burnout rates, with 48% of surveyed neurologists reporting burnout. On the other hand, orthopaedists were on the lower end of the burnout spectrum with 34% reporting it. Practitioners of physical medicine and rehabilitation had a 44% burnout rate.

Following that trend, 17% of neurologists reported experiencing both burnout and depression, followed by 15% of physical medicine and rehabilitation practitioners. Orthopaedists reported a 14% rate of both burnout and depression.

The survey also reported what specialties are happiest at work. Thirty-five percent of orthopaedists reported being happy at work (the second highest rate of the surveyed specialties). Physical medicine and rehabilitation practitioners reported a 28% rate of happiness at work, followed by 25% of neurologists.

Physician Burnout: What You Can Do About It

Having a good relationship with your spine doctor is important. When you have confidence in your doctor’s ability to provide care, you’ll be more likely to adhere to your treatment and have honest discussions with your doctor about your condition.

While it’s important to recognize that medicine is a high-stress profession, you are ultimately responsible for your health. If you believe your doctor is burned out, it may be worthwhile to see another spine specialist for a different perspective. Perhaps you’re interested in seeking a second opinion or finding a new specialist all together. Regardless of the reason, you have options to achieve the care you deserve.

Updated on: 02/22/19
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