Healthcare News & Insights

Female doctors more depressed than male counterparts: How you can help

Physician burnout is increasing, and female doctors are having the most issues. A new study found female physicians also experience more symptoms of depression than their male counterparts, and a significant portion of those symptoms result from work-family conflicts. 

You’ve heard it before: Physician burnout is a serious problem because it makes care at your hospital worse and makes life harder for everyone at your facility, from staff to patients.

There are various reasons for increased burnout, including bureaucracy, heightened administrative requirements and more hours spent at work than in the past.

Another reason has come to light recently, and it’s one disproportionately affecting female doctors: depression.

A new study from the JAMA Internal Medicine journal found women experience greater increases in depressive symptoms compared to men, although when accounting for conflict between the job and a provider’s family, the gender disparity is decreased.

While women are more likely to face symptoms of depression, the work-family conflict impacts all doctors. So alleviating that stress could improve the lives of physicians, regardless of gender.

The study looked specifically at doctors in their internship year, so it may not apply as strongly to providers further along in their careers. However, because physician burnout has become a big issue for many facilities, looking at all options to soothe symptoms of burnout can improve the care patients receive at your hospital – and boost physician retention rates.

Why are women so depressed?

Female physicians experience burnout at double the rate of their male colleagues. That means addressing the issue is essential to keeping women in medicine.

Problems female doctors face that may contribute to depression and burnout include sexual harassment and assault, lower pay and sexism in the workplace. It’s important to recognize these issues and take steps to eliminate them within your hospital, via training and refining reporting procedures for misconduct.

Plus, as the JAMA study lays out, female doctors usually deal with additional conflicts between their work lives and home lives. Because women are often responsible for work in the home (e.g., cooking, cleaning, taking care of children), they may not get to rest once they leave the hospital. And because medicine is such a demanding field, women aren’t always home to take care of everything, which can make them feel they’re failing.

This conflict can put female providers in a lose-lose situation, which may contribute to their exhaustion and cynicism about medicine, leaving them depressed.

How your hospital can help

Luckily, there are ways your hospital can make a difference. Implement procedures that allow doctors to take time off for family emergencies without being penalized, and promote a culture of tolerance for working parents.

Emphasize the importance of being understanding with doctors who may be struggling, and provide opportunities for those doctors to speak up about what they’re dealing with.

Empathy can go a long way, even if large-scale policy change isn’t possible. Let doctors know you’re thinking of them and ready to listen if they need to vent, or provide places for them to relax and take their minds off the stress.

Making sure your doctors feel cared for and appreciated is just as important as taking care of patients, and it benefits everyone within your facility.

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