Women in healthcare experience higher burnout rates than male peers

Women in healthcare occupations -- from physicians to nurses, clinical social workers, and mental health providers -- experience more stress and burnout compared to their male peers, researchers have found.

There are ways to mitigate this phenomenon, however, including boosting job satisfaction and maintaining a work-life balance, noted study corresponding author Judith Frame, PhD, of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, DC. Frame and colleagues' results were published February 22 in Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health.

"Research shows that restorative sleep, physical activity, a healthy diet … and other health-promoting habits can help mitigate job stress," Frame said in a statement released by the university.

The healthcare workplace increases the stress for women, who work long hours and multiple shifts and still balance the job demands with family responsibilities, Frame said. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the depth of burnout in healthcare professions.

"Women are under tremendous pressure to succeed simultaneously both at home and on the job," Frame noted. "That pressure can lead to toxic stress, occupational burnout, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts."

Frame and colleagues conducted a study that examined the phenomenon of burnout among women in healthcare professions around the world. The study consisted of an analysis of 71 research works published between 1979 and 2022 in 26 countries that considered not only female physicians but also female nurses, clinical social workers, and mental health providers.

The team found the following:

  • Gender inequality in the workplace led to increased stress and burnout for female healthcare professionals.
  • Poor work-life integration and a lack of workplace autonomy also contributed to stress among female healthcare professionals.
  • Factors that protected women from stress and burnout included a supportive and flexible working environment, access to professional development, and mindfulness practice.

The study also suggested that compared with male colleagues, female healthcare professionals were often assigned to patients with complex medical problems -- which take more emotional energy and time, increasing stress in healthcare settings that prioritize speed, according to Frame.

"Healthcare employers and policymakers need to develop solutions to help prevent burnout, a system-wide problem that leads to issues like healthcare workforce shortages, which are becoming increasingly common," Frame concluded.

The complete study can be found here.

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