Timothy Hoff has dedicated his career to researching healthcare policy and management issues. He’s not a doctor himself, but in the decades he’s spent studying physician behavior, he can now diagnose something some doctors can’t often spot in themselves—burnout.
“Doctors who are experiencing high levels of burnout often talk about their patients and clinical work in negative ways. The patient is seen more as a burden,” says Hoff, whose recent paper shows that physician burnout manifests more acutely in women than in men.
“Another sign that a physician is experiencing burnout is if they tell you they’re looking to do something completely different in the future, whether that’s changing their specialty or employer, or working part-time,” says Hoff, professor of management, healthcare systems and health policy at Northeastern.
After aggregating information from 43 studies on physician burnout conducted between 2010 and 2019, Hoff found that women physicians experience burnout more often and to a greater degree than men.
In almost 90 percent of studies that compared burnout by gender, female physician samples reported higher burnout prevalence, particularly in the form of emotional exhaustion. “This suggests that women doctors may detach from their patients slower than men do, and therefore become emotionally fatigued faster,” he says.
Hoff and his team of researchers also looked at burnout rates across different fields of medicine and found that “regardless of specialty, whether that’s surgery, or primary care, or working in an academic medical center, women still experience a higher level of burnout compared to men,” Hoff says.