Are pathologists overworked? Yes! In fact, they are experiencing more depression and burnout than ever before. Pathology is a noble profession. Pathologists interpret information at a cellular level to diagnose anything from cancer to chronic disease. However, making the correct and best diagnosis possible for patients puts a lot of pressure on their shoulders. In addition, there is a worldwide pathology shortage. The shortage leads to longer working hours, larger workloads, and higher expectations.
In this article, you will learn about the 2022 physician and pathologist burnout, depression, and suicide statistics, what we can do, and where medical professionals can turn for help.
Around 1 in 3 pathologists have burnout.
According to a recent 2022 MedScape Physician Burnout and Depression Report, nearly 1 in 3 pathologists are experiencing burnout. This number is higher than it was in 2021. It is hard to pinpoint exact causes of burnout. However, whatever the reasons, it can negatively affect mental, physical, and emotional health.
How can you know if you are experiencing burnout? Signs include insomnia, job dissatisfaction, fatigue, irritability, and excessive stress. The Mayo Clinic lists some helpful questions to help determine if you have burnout and what you can do to improve it.
What is causing this pathology burnout?
Fifty percent of men and 60 percent of women interviewed in the report said they have more burnout in 2022 than during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine. Factors may include the added stress of returning to work while balancing mask mandates, sick leaves, and reforming routines.
Another part of the burnout has to do with the pathology shortage. A Fierce Healthcare article stated that the number of US pathologists decreased by nearly 18 percent over ten years. However, the workload rose almost 42 percent, resulting in overworked pathologists. They estimate that by 2030 the US will be short by nearly 6,000 pathologists.
The MedScape burnout report included a survey listing more reasons for burnout. Sixty percent of medical professionals said their burnout was due to too many bureaucratic tasks. Thirty-four percent attributed it to too many hours at work. Thirty-two percent said burnout was due to a lack of control over their life.
Around 1 in 2 physicians report severe burnout.
Nearly fifty percent of physicians said their burnout was severe. That is half of the medical force. Burnout symptoms include exhaustion, trouble concentrating, high tensions at home, more negative emotions, and the loss of enjoyment of hobbies.
Around 2 in 3 physicians say their burnout hurts their relationships.
The MedScape burnout report states that “more than two-thirds of physicians say burnout affects their relationships. They say tempers flare more quickly, they have less time or interest in romance, and many parents feel guilty that they’re spending less time with the kids because they’re so stressed.” Physicians also reported that it affected doctor-patient relationships.
What helps with pathologist and physician burnout?
The MedScape report listed ideas physicians have implemented to help reduce pathology burnout. Some physicians cope with isolation, food binging, and increased alcohol consumption. Positive coping mechanisms include exercise, talking with friends and family, sleep, and music. They have tried managing it at work by asking for a better schedule, more control and autonomy, and more support staff.
Around 1 in 5 physicians have depression.
Burnout and depression are not necessarily connected. They can exist independently or be the cause of one another. However, the percentage of medical professionals experiencing depression was also negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its after effects. In a MedScape Physician Suicide Report, 21 percent of physicians said they were depressed. Of that group, a quarter reported they had clinical depression.
Unfortunately, many of these healthcare workers have not sought help for their depression. Some physicians shared why in the MedScape burnout report. One of the reasons was they felt they could deal with depression on their own. Another reason was the concern about disclosure to the medical board and depression added to their insurance record.
Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness. According to Mental Health America, nearly 50 million Americans are currently experiencing a mental illness. The world is no stranger to depression, yet many unhelpful and unhealthy stigmas still stand. Perhaps since pathologists, doctors, psychologists, and other health professionals are charged with taking care of the public, they feel extra pressure to appear well. However, none are exempt from the devastating effects of mental illness. Everyone, from patients to overworked pathologists, needs help.
More than 1 in 10 pathologists have suicidal thoughts.
In 2022 pathology was the medical field that had the highest rate of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts. More than 1 in 10 pathologists, 13 percent, reported they have thought about or attempted suicide.
There was a recent meta-analysis on suicide among physicians and healthcare workers. They investigated why there tend to be more suicidal ideation and attempts in the medical field than in many other careers. Related risk factors could include that healthcare workers frequently have to break bad news and are surrounded by illness and death. These careers, especially pathology, also tend to attract perfectionistic people with compulsive attention to detail.
The pathologist lifestyle tends to be more reclusive and isolated than many other medical professionals. They typically work in a lab or office with a microscope, computer, and hundreds of thousands of slides. Although they may interact with laboratory professionals and colleagues, they rarely interact with the patient and medical staff at the hospital. During the COVID-19 pandemic, pathologists were overworked even more, and many ended up working from home. Remote work further isolated them from their colleagues. There were benefits that came from working from home. However, many cautioned people that worked from home to find ways to interact with colleagues as much as possible to avoid complete isolation.
The authors of the meta-analysis suggested that workplaces should offer more benefits and assistance with mental health. Of course, breaking the stigma and normalizing mental health problems among healthcare workers would also help. Anyone can have depression or suicidal thoughts. No one is exempt.
Ideas for handling mental health problems include going to therapy, spending time with family and friends, doing hobbies you enjoy, exercising to increase endorphins, getting enough sleep, and eating more healthily.
Resources for physicians with suicidal thoughts or depression
Are you, or someone you know, suffering from suicidal thoughts, depression, or burnout? Or maybe even all three? There is help. Resources include:
Physician Support Line: 888-409-0141, or visit www.physiciansupportline.com
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255, or, Text 741741, or visit http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
PeerRXm Med visit www.peerrxmed.com
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention visit afsp.org/suicide-prevention-for-healthcare-professionals
Many pathologists are overworked and feel the effects of burnout and the pathology shortage. There is also a dangerous amount of suicidal ideation and depression. On top of that, there is a greater need than ever for good cancer diagnostics worldwide. We need our pathologists, so something clearly needs to change.
Looking into the future, what can be done to increase interest in pathology as a medical field? And what can be done to help reduce the stress on our current pathologists?