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The Burnout Epidemic Plaguing OB/GYNs

The 1970s in the United States was full of roller disco, tie-dye shirts and bell bottoms. It was the decade of Saturday Night Fever, the Watergate scandal and the invention of the floppy disk. 

In 1970, there were approximately 30 million women comprising the U.S. workforce. Now, more than 50 years later, women not only work in business, they’re entrepreneurs. In fact, more than 11 million U.S. businesses are owned by women. 

The number of women employed as physicians has also increased. Women as a percentage of the physician workforce is about 36 percent, up from 28 percent a little more than a decade ago. Women doctors work in a variety of fields, but they have a commanding number in the OB/GYN specialty. 

Of the over 22,000 OB/GYN physicians employed in the U.S., more than 80 percent are women. Many of them are career moms, juggling multiple responsibilities at home, on the job and in their social life. That’s not to say, though, that male physicians don’t deal with similar work-life balance problems. 

Unfortunately, female doctors, including OB/GYNs, face a wide array of challenges, including a lack of mentors, discrimination, gender bias, cultural environment of the workplace, imposter syndrome and the need for better work-life integration. It’s because of these issues and others that many obstetrician and gynecologist specialists report high levels of burnout. 

Check out these statistics from Medscape’s Obstetrician & Gynecologist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2022:

  • Roughly 83 percent of OB/GYNs said they were very or somewhat happy outside of work prior to the pandemic, a number that has decreased to 59 percent.
  • Female OB/GYNS report being burned out at a greater rate than their male colleagues.
  • The number one source of burnout for these OB/GYNs is too many bureaucratic tasks.
  • More than half of OB/GYNS report being more burned out than during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Case of the “More Likelys” 

The OB/GYN specialty ranked third in Medscape’s 2022 physician burnout and depression report, preceded only by emergency medicine and critical care doctors. For many female doctors, burnout comes in the form of emotional exhaustion. That’s unlike male physicians, who are more likely to suffer from depersonalization as a primary symptom of burnout.

While we’re on the subject of female physicians being “more likely to,” here are some more numbers (courtesy of the National Academy of Medicine) that point to women, especially OB/GYNs, experiencing more challenges than their male counterparts:

  • Women physicians are more likely than men physicians to experience depression.
  • Women physicians are two times more likely to die by suicide compared to women non-physicians.
  • Women physicians are more likely to experience work-home conflicts.
  • Despite similar work and levels of academic productivity, male physicians are more likely to be promoted.
  • Women physicians are more likely to report limitations in their career for family reasons. 
  • Women physicians are more likely than men to have partners who are employed full-time. 

Burnout Factors Unique to OB/GYNs 

The OB/GYN specialty is somewhat unique because these doctors are on-call and often work long and unpredictable hours to meet the needs of patients going into labor. That’s even more true when they deal with patients in high-risk pregnancies and other situations that require high-stakes decision-making. 

A more recent factor affecting OB/GYNs is the increase of non-open hysterectomies being performed. The more minimally-invasive laparoscopic approach is more technically demanding and requires additional training. 

Add to these myriad issues the healthcare staffing shortage and predicted physician shortage, and you’ve got the recipe for even more burnout. Not only has the number of family physicians practicing OB steadily declined, but the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) continues to project a shortage of up to 22,000 OB/GYNs by 2050. 

The Use of Digital Health in Addressing Burnout 

There isn’t one clear solution to mitigating physician burnout — in any specialty. Leadership at hospitals, health systems and medical groups should integrate resources to identify doctors experiencing burnout and offer ways to reduce their stressors, whether that means offering a more flexible work schedule or promoting confidential mental health treatment. 

As in other areas of healthcare, technology should be part of the strategy for addressing physician burnout. Digital health tools that automate the plethora of administrative tasks for which OB/GYNs and other doctors are responsible can proactively improve the quality of patient care they give their patients. It can also reduce waste and costs and the potential for medical errors. 

A prime example of the type of technology at work is digital check-in. By enabling patients to use mobile devices to perform necessary tasks like verifying their insurance, signing consent forms and reviewing and updating clinical information — all of which updates in real-time with their electronic record — they can finish the process anywhere at any time. 

Are you interested in communicating more efficiently with your patients and enabling you and your staff members to complete necessary administrative tasks in less time and with less effort? If so, find out how Epion Digital Check-In can help your practice deliver care that feels personal, familiar and easy to use. Schedule a meeting with one of our talented team members today!