Many surveys look at burnout and depression across physician specialties, but Practical Dermatology® magazine’s recent poll takes a deep dive into how feelings of burnout or depression are affecting dermatologists and the patients they care for. (Information about the survey is provided in the sidebar.)

In the January 2020 issue of this magazine (online at PracticalDermatology.com), I discussed some of the key findings, including the startling fact that just shy of 74 percent of dermatologists reported feeling burnt out and/or depressed.

The big question is what are we going to do about it? Some potential solutions were advanced in our survey. Respondents have tried to cut back on how many hours they work (45.96 percent) and/or scheduled vacations (47.83 percent) to counteract feelings of burnout and depression and in the hopes of learning to love dermatology again. To that end, new research from the Global Wellness Institute1 suggests that vacations alone may not cut it. The group suggests that “wellness sabbaticals,” where you’re set up to work a few productive hours a day but you also schedule a lot of daily wellness experiences for a minimum of three weeks, may be the way forward. Unfortunately, I am not sure how feasible this model is for dermatologists with busy practices. We can all benefit from incorporating more wellness into our lives, though.

Other survey respondents stopped accepting insurance to cut down on paperwork. Some sold their practices, and others staffed up to put the brakes on burnout and prevent it from turning into depression.

Medscape released their own burnout and depression survey2 and showed that 42 percent of all specialists including 36 percent of dermatologists are experiencing feelings of burn out and/or depression. Generation X physicians seemed to be more likely to report these feelings, according to the Medscape poll. The reasons sited in this survey are in line with those in the Practical Dermatology® poll, namely long hours, overwhelming workloads, and lack of work-life balance. About one-third of all doctors in the Medscape survey said they would be willing to give up $10,001 to 20,000 a year for a better work balance.

Again, similar to our survey, specialists in the Medscape poll were more likely to engage in positive self-care strategies than negative behaviors, such as drinking excessive alcohol and making unhealthy food choices to feel better.

Our survey did not look at suicide ideation, but the Medscape poll found that 25 percent of respondents who felt depressed have thought about suicide, and one percent of all respondents had attempted suicide. An estimated 300 physicians die by suicide in the US per year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and there are reports that physician suicide is on the rise.

Taken together with the survey findings, these suicidal rates are cause for concern and underscore the importance of taking action now. As physicians, we are great at helping others, but not always great at helping ourselves. We must begin to take steps to feel better about our lives and restore a work-life balance. Find a solution that works for you and remember It’s OK to ask for help if you are struggling.

If you are thinking about suicide, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline suicidepreventionlifeline.org, call 1-800-273-8255, or text 741-741.

About the Survey

One hundred sixty one dermatologists responded to the survey. Most dermatologists who responded have been in practice for 30-plus years. Thirty-five percent work in a group practice and another 35 percent report being in solo practice. About six percent work in hospital-based practices and 9.4 percent are employed by private equity-run practices. Just shy of 12 percent of respondents are in academic practice.

1. Global Wellness Institute. 2020 Global Wellness Trends. https://www.globalwellnesssummit.com/2020-global-wellness-trends/

2. Medscape: National Physician Burnout and Suicide Report 2020. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2020-lifestyle-burnout-6012460?src=WNL_physrep_200115_burnout2020&uac=329097DK&impID=2245489&faf=1