Surgeon Burnout

time management for physicians

Burnout is common.  The latest figures show that at any one time, almost every other physician is experiencing burnout and over a medical lifetime 80% may experience some signs. Whether newly trained residents or experienced physicians and surgeons the risk of burnout remains high, and seems to peak in mid-career.  In surgery, some groups have very high levels of burnout including urologists, orthopedic surgeons and ENT surgeons. 

Both men and women may suffer from burnout. Women doctors are slightly more likely to experience burnout than men but it often manifests differently. For example, women often experience burnout as exhaustion and a loss of purpose, whereas men are more likely to experience exhaustion, depersonalization and cynicism.  Doctor burnout is a worldwide phenomenon and while each country has unique issues that make the daily practice of medicine difficult, almost all physicians around the world experience the same issues with work-life balance and burnout. While there is some evidence that osteopathic physicians experience a lower rate of burnout than allopathic physicians, all doctors are vulnerable.

There is no one cause of burnout but it can be thought of as a discrepancy between the demands made on the physician (stress)  and the resources they have available to deal with those demands.  This also gives us a guide to the best way to manage or prevent burnout   We can either decrease the demands and stress made on doctors or increase the physician’s resources, and preferably both. In other words physicians must learn the skills they need for career and life management or, for most, burnout is inevitable.

While burnout usually refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work, it should not be seen as only a work problem. Indeed it can also occur in the home situation and be destructive to relationships. 

If left unmanaged, physician burnout has the potential to lead to impairment of a physician’s life and performance. Eventually issues like increased alcohol and drug use, boundary issues, marital and relationship issues, depression and even suicide, can become major problems. Male physicians have a significantly higher rate of suicide than the general population and female physicians may have a rate of suicide two to three times that of women in the general population. It is estimated that every year over 300-400  physicians commit suicide in the United States alone and this is almost certainly an underestimate. If that were not bad enough, we know that the wives of male doctors have a suicide rate almost double that of female doctors, making doctor’s wives especially vulnerable.

Physician and surgeon burnout is an area where coaching is especially helpful. Coaching for Physicians works with individual physicians and with organizations, like medical societies, hospitals and medical groups, to teach the skills needed to prevent and manage burnout and restore the joy to medical practice. It is rare for engaged physicians to become burned out. To that end, we also consult with organizations to develop and change the work environment to improve work-life balance and encourage physician engagement and reduce turnover and burnout. In so doing, both the physician and the organization gain from a reduced staff turnover, improved patent safety and a more functional and productive medical team.

Patrick Hudson has been helping individual surgeons and physician groups and organizations, recognize the signs of burnout for almost a decade. We help you avoid and prevent burnout, manage and treat burnout symptoms and restore the joy to medical practice. 


1. Shanafelt, T. D., Hasan, O., Dyrbye, L. N., Sinsky, C., Satele, D., Sloan, J., & West, C. P. (2015). Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance in Physicians and the General US Working Population Between 2011 and 2014. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 90(12), 1600–1613.

2. Pantenburg, B., Luppa, M., König, H.-H., & Riedel-Heller, S. G. (2016). Burnout among young physicians and its association with physicians’ wishes to leave: results of a survey in Saxony, Germany. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, 11(1), 425–10.

3. Sakinofsky, I. (1980). Suicide in doctors and their wives. British Medical Journal, 281(6236), 386–387.

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