Work Hours Affecting the Mental Health of Physicians

Work stress and long hours can affect family life, and physicians and mental health professionals are not immune. New research analyzes how lengthy work hours are putting doctors at risk for depression, and how those long hours are causing friction at home.

A study by Mayo Clinic researchers reported on the satisfaction and dissatisfaction of the work and home life of 7,288 doctors and 891 partners of those doctors. The participants were between 51-55 on average and most had children. In a field dominated by men, the study also revealed that female doctors are more susceptible to depression and family problems because of their traditional role as caregivers.

When Doctors Need Mental Health Care

The doctors were asked about their satisfaction with their jobs and personal lives, if they had suicidal thoughts or symptoms of depression and if their job caused marital strife.

Study author Liselotte Dyrbye of the Mayo Clinic found that doctors who had recent conflicts with their partners over balancing work and home time had high symptoms of burnout and thoughts of divorce. Doctors who had put in the longest hours, who worked in an academic medical center and who were young or female had the highest percentage of conflicts between work and home life, burnout and depression.

Female Physicians Having More Conflicts Balancing Work and Home

Over three-fourths of the doctors were male and 73 percent of the partners were female. However, researchers found that the small percentage of female doctors had a large percentage of conflicts between work and home.

Although female physicians in the study showed more job distress, many males share parental and household duties equally. Dyrbye suggests the traditional roles of women as mother and keeper of the home are still at play, however, regardless of whether that woman holds a powerful job title. Dyrbye fears a loss of talented physicians due to these conflicts, regardless of gender. She believes there should be much more research conducted on this topic so female physicians will be able to manage their conflicts.

Finding Solutions

Long hours are stressing both male and female physicians. The Mayo study suggests ways to help physicians find a greater balance between work and family.

Family-friendly policies can alleviate the stress associated with working long hours away from home. If physicians are given greater scheduling flexibility their frustration may dissipate. And job sharing could reduce some of the long hours.

Child care centers in the very buildings that their parents work could also provide mental relief for physicians when they know their children are nearby and in a safe environment.

Mental illnesses can affect any individual, no matter their profession. Just as they treat their patients, professionals have symptoms to watch for and management strategies to use when those symptoms appear.

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