Women in healthcare report higher rates of burnout than men

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Gender inequality, a poor balance between work and life and a lack of workplace autonomy all create pressure on female healthcare professionals, researchers report. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

Gender inequality, a poor balance between work and life and a lack of workplace autonomy all create pressure on female healthcare professionals, researchers report. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

Women working in healthcare endure significantly more stress and burnout compared to their male co-workers, a new review concludes.

Gender inequality, a poor balance between work and life and a lack of workplace autonomy all create pressure on female healthcare professionals, researchers report.

On the other hand, there are factors that can protect women from stress and burnout: a supportive and flexible work environment, opportunities for professional development and mindfulness meditation.

“Human beings are not equipped to handle the combined, intense pressures in healthcare, in part due to the pressure to not take time to care for yourself,” said researcher Leigh Frame, associate director of the George Washington University Resiliency & Well-being Center.

For the study, Frame and her colleagues analyzed the results from 71 prior studies published in 26 countries and four languages between 1979 and 2022.

The studies reviewed stress and burnout among a range of female healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, clinical social workers and mental health providers.

This is the first comprehensive analysis to examine the relationship between work stress and well-being in female health professionals, researchers said.

The pandemic prompted the review, as it cast a spotlight on healthcare burnout.

Results showed that women are under tremendous pressure to succeed both at home and on the job. Such pressure contributes to toxic stress, occupational burnout, depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts, Frame said.

The indignity of gender inequality adds to the pressure, researchers said. For example, women wearing scrubs in a hospital are often assumed to be a nurse, even if they are the physician on call.

Add those to the high-pressure demands of healthcare work, and stress is amplified even more, Frame said.

Female healthcare workers often work long hours and multiple shifts while balancing job demands with family responsibilities like child care and housework, researchers said.

And compared to male colleagues, women in healthcare often are assigned patients with complex medical problems that require more emotional energy and time. This further increases stress in healthcare workplaces that reward speedy work.

Women in healthcare can protect themselves by getting good restorative sleep, engaging in physical activity, eating a healthy diet rich in plants and fresh foods and practicing mindfulness, results show.

Employers also need to step in and support female healthcare workers by developing solutions to help prevent burnout, researchers said. Otherwise, health systems will continue to suffer from workforce shortages.

The study was published recently in the journal Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health.

More information

The U.S. Surgeon General has more on health worker burnout.

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