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Women in healthcare report higher levels of burnout than male colleagues, study finds

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Dive Brief:

  • Over the past four decades, women working in healthcare have reported significantly higher levels of stress and burnout than their male counterparts worldwide, according to a new literature review.
  • Gender inequity in the workplace, poor work-life integration (i.e., being encouraged to prioritize caregiving over professional development) and a lack of autonomy at work correlated with increased burnout, according to the study published Wednesday in Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health.
  • Some professional and personal factors insulated female healthcare professionals from burnout. Women who worked in supportive environments that offered flexible schedules and employee recognition, or those who had strong relationships inside and outside of the workplace, reported higher levels of well-being.

Dive Insight:

For the review, researchers studied healthcare professionals’ well-being — their integrated mental and physical health as it relates to life satisfaction, sense of purpose and ability to manage stress — and absence of well-being, or burnout.

The analysis drew from 71 studies of well-being among healthcare professionals published in 26 countries from 1979 to 2022.

In a quarter of the studies, women in healthcare said work-life integration fueled dissatisfaction. Women said they were encouraged to prioritize the needs of their children and families over their own personal and professional development, even when they earned higher incomes than their partners.

Another quarter of articles found limited professional autonomy and poor working conditions contributed to women’s burnout levels. Women were more likely than men to feel “powerless” and constricted by time pressures, as well as to spend more emotional energy on complex patients than their male colleagues, according to the study.

The study warned burnout could have “devastating effects on healthcare professionals and the quality of patient care.” Its authors advocated for increased training for gender sensitivity and bias, as well as the structural challenges women in healthcare occupations face. 

The research is significant due to women’s dominance of the healthcare industry, according to the study. As of 2021, women made up 78% of the workers in the U.S. healthcare and social assistance sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Burnout has increased since the start of the pandemic as providers coped with higher workloads and reported hostile work environments. Many physicians have left the profession as a result, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to issue an advisory in 2022 declaring that combating provider burnout must be a priority for healthcare systems.

For caregivers — many of whom are women — burnout has been even worse. Healthcare workers with high childcare responsibilities were 80% more likely to report burnout and more likely to consider reducing their hours or leaving their roles, according to a study published in JAMA.

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