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Gastroenterologists Continue to Struggle With Work-Life Balance

Even as COVID-19’s effects on the workplace wane, many gastroenterologists are struggling to find the same level of contentment that they enjoyed before the pandemic hit. Burnout and depression remain significant issues.

These are among the topline findings of the newly released Medscape Gastroenterologist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2023.

Before the pandemic, 83% of gastroenterologists reported being “very happy” or “happy” about their personal lives ― now only 62% feel that way.

Today, physicians in every specialty are substantially less happy with their personal lives than they were before the pandemic, according to the survey of more than 9100 US physicians in 29 specialties.

Burnout Tough on Personal Relationships

The rate of burnout has fallen to 33% of male gastroenterologists and 45% of their female counterparts, from 46% and 57%, respectively, in last year’s report.

Nearly half (47%) of burned-out gastroenterologists say it has had a strong or severe impact on their lives. That compares with 43% of physicians overall.

Burnout can take a toll on relationships. “I’m quick to anger. I show annoyance from minor issues that come up with my family,” one gastroenterologist said.

Another said, “I have no time for my friends, and my wife is always frustrated with me.”

Still another said, “My son hates me for not being around. My husband drinks too much out of loneliness.”

Yet only 14% of gastroenterologists surveyed said they have sought professional help to reduce burnout, while 39% said they would consider it. Forty-seven percent said they are not willing to consider seeking help.

What’s driving burnout among gastroenterologists? The volume of bureaucratic tasks (64%) remains the biggest contributor, followed by lack of control/autonomy (41%) and lack of respect from co-workers (37%).

Other factors include hassles with electronic health records (30%), too many hours at work (30%), lack of respect from patients (25%), insufficient compensation (23%), government regulations (12%), and stress from treating COVID-19 patients (9%).

How do gastroenterologists cope with burnout? Positive techniques include exercising (48%), listening to music (41%), talking with family or close friends (41%), striving to get more sleep (37%), and meditating (17%). However, other tactics include self-isolating (37%), drinking alcohol (26%), eating junk food (25%), binge eating (14%), or using nicotine (6%) or cannabis products (4%).

In the past year, 17% of gastroenterologists reported clinical depression (severe depression that lasts some time and is not caused by grief), while 79% reported colloquial depression (feeling down, blue, sad). These figures are similar to those in last year’s report.

At 73%, job burnout was the biggest driver of gastroenterologists’ depression. World events are also taking a toll, with 38% of respondents indicating that to be a factor.

Half of gastroenterologists with depression said their depression does not affect how they interact with patients. However, 35% reported that they become easily exasperated with patients, 16% said they become frustrated in front of patients, and 12% reported that their depression may lead to “uncharacteristic” errors.

COVID’s Lingering Impact

COVID-19 continues to affect gastroenterologists: 30% said the pandemic had a “significant” effect on their work-life happiness in the past year, while 43% said it had “somewhat” of an impact. About one quarter said it had little or no impact on work-life happiness.

“The impact of COVID on physician burnout will remain for years, but the focus has changed,” says John Whyte, MD, WebMD’s chief medical officer.

“Now it’s all about helping patients catch up on all the care, especially preventive, that they missed. This is causing very busy days and long lines, which frustrates everyone. And COVID taught us more about the social determinants of health; now everyone wants us to measure and do more things in a brief office visit,” Whyte says.

Finding Contentment Amid the Stress

The percentage of gastroenterologists willing to take a cut in pay to achieve better work-life balance or have more free time increased slightly to 59% from last year’s report of 57%.

Similar to last year’s report, most gastroenterologists are currently in a committed relationship; 93% of male and 76% of female gastroenterologists are married. And most (84%) gastroenterologists describe their marriage as “very good” or “good.”

Nearly three quarters (73%) of gastroenterologists have spiritual or religious beliefs, compared with 69% of all physicians who identify themselves as believers.

When it comes to time off, 50% of gastroenterologists take 3–4 weeks a year in vacation time, 21% take less than that, and 29% take more than that.

Findings from Medscape’s latest happiness, wellness, and lifestyle survey are based on 9175 Medscape member physicians practicing in 29 specialties in the United States who completed an online survey conducted between June 28, 2022, and October 3, 2022. Most respondents were 35–64 years old, and 59% were men.

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