What is Work-Life Balance Worth to Physicians? A New Survey Has the Answer

Physicians have put a price tag on the value of a better work-life balance.

According to a new Medscape survey, 50% of physicians said they would take a salary reduction of up to $20,000 per year in exchange for working less hours and achieving a better work-life balance.

The survey of more than 15,000 physicians found that this sentiment was extremely consistent across generations. In the National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020, which provided the results of the survey, 52% of Millennials, 48% of Generation Xers and 49% of baby boomers said they would take a salary cut in exchange for more personal time. This is noteworthy, since millennials represent the largest number of providers willing to take the cut while typically earning less than their more established peers.

Gender based results were almost identical, with 53% of women saying they would take a pay cut versus 47% of men.

Burnout and Generational Differences

The survey found that while overall burnout rates have declined slightly, the problem is worse among mid-career doctors than among younger or older physicians. The 2020 survey focused on the problems of physician burnout and suicide, and looked at issues based on generational differences. While burnout was down overall, doctors in Generation X (ages 40-54) experienced a higher rate of burnout than millennials (ages 25-39) or baby boomers (ages 55-73). The burnout rate was 48% for Gen X, compared to 38% for millennials and 39% for boomers.

Living with Burnout

How do doctors cope? Millennials said they are most likely to deal with their symptoms of burnout with sleep, while Gen Xers turn to exercise and boomers said they tend to isolate themselves from others.

Burnout can also lead to depression. Gen X physicians (18%) reported slightly higher rates of depression than millennials (15%) or boomers (16%). Some 23% of men and 22% of women said they have had thoughts of suicide but have not attempted to take their own lives. However, about 1% of physicians have attempted suicide, while an estimated 300 to 400 physicians commit suicide each year.

Burnout and the Negative Effect on Care

Nearly 40% of all physicians who report depression say it leads them to be easily exasperated with patients, and 16% in all age groups said depression results in them making errors they would otherwise not make.

Senior Director of the Medscape Business of Medicine Leslie Kane explained that while overall burnout rates have dropped in the past year, related depression and suicidal thoughts among all physicians remain a top concern.

Causes of Burnout

The top reason doctors across all three generations (55% of respondents) cited for burnout was having too many bureaucratic tasks, such as charting and paperwork.

Spending too many hours at work was the second leading cause of physician burnout (33% of respondents).

Technology’s Role

While working with electronic health records (EHR), was another significant reason for dissatisfaction and burnout for physicians across each generation, it poses a bigger problem for boomers than younger doctors. More than 40% of baby boomers said the increasing computerization of practice with EHRs was in the top three reasons for burnout. For millennials who grew up with computers, there’s far less stress, as EHR use was near the bottom of the list of 10 largest factors contributing to burnout.


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