Many American Doctors Say They Are Depressed or Burned Out

A middle-aged doctor frowns and covers his face.Many American doctors report being depressed or burned out, according to Medscape’s 2018 National Physician Burnout and Depression Report. Female physicians reported higher rates of burnout (48%) than did male physicians (38%).

Previous research supports the claim that physicians experience stress and trauma that can undermine their mental health. A 2016 study found traumatic childbirth experiences can cause secondary trauma in the healthcare providers who attend those births. Another 2016 study found 27% of medical students experience symptoms of depression, while 11%  have thoughts of suicide.

A Grim Picture of Physicians’ Mental Health

The study polled more than 15,000 doctors in 29 specialties. In the survey, 42% of physicians reported burnout. Physicians in critical care, neurology, and family medicine had the highest rates of burnout. The specialties with the lowest rates were plastic surgery, dermatology, and pathology. The specialists with the lowest rates were also more likely to seek professional help for their mental health.

Fourteen percent of physicians reported being both burned out and depressed. The specialties with the highest rates of co-occurring depression and burnout were:

  • Obstetrics and gynecology (20%)
  • Public health and preventive medicine (18%)
  • Urology (17%)
  • Neurology (17%)

Causes and Effects of Physician Depression

Twelve percent of physicians said they experience symptoms of depression, and 3% reported clinical depression. The physicians cited their jobs as the leading cause. Other reasons included finances, family, romantic relationships, and their health.

Many physicians said their depression affected patient care:

  • One third said depression made them more easily exasperated, and 14% said they expressed this frustration in front of patients.
  • Thirty-two percent reported less engagement, with 24% taking less careful notes.
  • Fourteen percent reported making errors they would not typically make.
  • Five percent admitted making errors that might harm their patients.

A 2017 study found medical boards are more likely to ask about a physician’s mental health history than their physical health history. The boards often ask intrusive questions about mental health. Stigma could be deterring physicians from seeking treatment.


Medscape national physician burnout & depression report 2018. (2018, January 17). Medscape. Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Caroline

    January 26th, 2018 at 3:17 PM

    I’ve worked in healthcare for 12 years, 6 of those in a hospital setting. This is unfortunately so common and a real threat to our healthcare system. The helpers need help too!

  • zach

    February 8th, 2018 at 9:48 AM

    What kind of support systems do hospitals and other healthcare places have for doctors? Will doctors be punished for talking about depression? That is messed up!

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