Findings from an online survey show that US physicians who are mothers and who care for seriously ill children, spouses, parents, or other individuals have higher rates of mood and/or anxiety disorders and burnout compared with their physician colleagues who do not provide this form of care. The results of this study were shared in a research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Physician mothers from the online Physicians Moms group responded to an online survey that asked questions about their caregiving responsibilities. A total of 5613 physician-mothers completed the survey. The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Clinicians was used to screen for risky drinking, and specific questions were asked to identify behavioral risk factors, substance use or abuse, mental health status, and burnout among participants. Approximately 16.4% (n=918) of participants reported having additional caregiving responsibilities and were included in the final analysis.
Additional caregiving responsibilities among the surveyed physician-mothers included caring for ill parents, children or infants, partners, or relatives. A total of 153 physicians cared for more than 1 person. Physician-mothers who had these additional caregiving responsibilities had higher rates of mood or anxiety disorders (adjusted relative risk [aRR], 1.21; 95% CI, 1.04-1.42; P =.02) and burnout (aRR, 1.25; 95% CI, 1.06-1.46; P =.007) compared with physician-mothers without additional caregiving responsibilities. Conversely, physician-mothers with vs without additional caregiving responsibilities had similar career satisfaction (9.5% vs 7.5%, respectively; P =.06), risky drinking (16.6% vs 17.7%, respectively; P =.42), and substance abuse (2.8% vs 3.0%, respectively; P =.72).
Limitations of the study include the survey-based design, the low response rate, and a convenience sample of physician mothers that may not be fully representative of this specific population.
“To reduce burnout and improve workforce retention,” the researchers explained, “health care systems should develop new approaches to identify and address the needs of these physician mothers.”
Yank V, Rennels C, Linos E, Choo EK, Jagsi R, Mangurian C. Behavioral health and burnout among physician mothers who care for a person with a serious health problem, long-term illness, or disability [published online January 28, 2019]. JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.6411.