Surgeons Report Challenges Balancing Career and Parenthood

Male surgeons are almost as likely to feel conflicted about balancing their medical career and parenthood as their female peers (36% vs 38%), according to the Medscape General Surgeon Lifestyle, Happiness, and Burnout Report 2022. This contrasts with physicians overall, of whom only 29% of men felt “conflicted” or “very conflicted” as a parent due to work demands, compared to nearly half (48%) of women.

In the survey, more than 4 out of 10 surgeons (44%) reported being burned-out, similar to physicians across all specialties (47%). Emergency medicine (60%) and critical care (56%) reported the highest rates of burnout, while dermatology (33%) and public health and preventive medicine (26%) reported the lowest rates.

This new report was compiled from an online survey that included more than 13,000 physicians from 29 specialties, of which 3% of respondents were general surgeons. Most respondents (61%) were male; 38% were female. The most common age of respondents was 55–64 (31%), followed by 45–54 (25%) and those 65 years or older (20%). The survey was available from June 29, 2021, to September 26, 2021.

Female general surgeons reported being burned out at a greater rate than their male peers (59% vs 38%). The most common contributor to burnout among general surgeons was too many bureaucratic tasks (51%), followed by lack of control in life (43%), insufficient salary (40%), lack of respect from colleagues (36%), and too many hours at work (30%). Nearly 8 out of 10 respondents (79%) said that burnout had a negative effect on their personal relationships, a greater proportion than in physicians across all specialties (68%).

The top strategies among surgeons to alleviate burnout at work were reducing work hours and participating in meditation and other stress-reduction techniques (both 29%). More than half of respondents (52%) said they would take a pay cut to have better work-life balance.

About a quarter of general surgeons (26%) said they were clinically depressed — a rate similar to that of the general physician pool (24%) — and 67% said they experienced colloquial depression. Most surgeons (58%) said their depression did not affect their interactions with patients, but nearly one third (31%) said they were easily exasperated by patients. More than 1 in 5 surgeons (21%) said they were less motivated to take patient notes carefully, 14% said they expressed their frustration in front of patients, and 13% reported that they made errors that they may not have normally made.

Prior to the pandemic, more than three quarters (77%) of general surgeons said they were “very happy” or “somewhat happy” outside of work; that proportion has now dropped to 56%. Respondents commonly reported participating in non–work-related hobbies (70%), exercising (64%), and spending time with family friends (60%) as strategies to manage their well-being. Fewer than 1 in 10 (9%) surgeons reported going to therapy to maintain their happiness and mental health.

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