Women Working in Healthcare Have Significantly More Burnout Than Men Colleagues

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A new study found gender inequality, poor work-life balance, a lack of workplace autonomy, and caregiving responsibilities contribute to women in healthcare professions having more stress than their male colleagues.

Women Working in Healthcare Have Significantly More Burnouts Than Men Colleagues

Viktoriya Karakcheyeva, MD, MS, NCC, LCPC-SP, LCADAS

Credit: GW Resiliency & Well-being Center

A new study found women who work in healthcare face significantly more stress and burnout than men who work in healthcare—and job satisfaction and better work-life balance can prevent women from experiencing harmful stress.1

“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 investigator Leigh A. Frame, MHS, PhD, associate director of the GW Resiliency & Well-being Center at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, in a press release.2

Women make up a large part of the healthcare field, driving 80% of overall growth since the year 2000.1 According to the US Census Bureau, the number of full-time, year-round healthcare workers has nearly doubled since 2000, increasing from 5 million to 9 million—and women take up 3 quarters of this number.

The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the issue of healthcare burnout among women as they must balance home and work responsibilities. The pressure women face can lead to unhealthy levels of stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Investigators, led by Viktoriya Karakcheyeva, MD, MS, NCC, LCPC-SP, LCADAS, also from the Resiliency & Well-being Center, assessed the relationship between work-related stress and the well-being of women worldwide who work in healthcare. The team analyzed 71 studies published in 26 countries and 4 languages between 1979 – 2022, examining the quality of life, stress, burnout, resilience, and wellness among female healthcare professionals, including nurses, physicians, clinical social workers, and mental health providers, aged 18 – 74 years.

The studies analyzed used evidence-based instruments to measure well-being, including the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) to measure occupational burnout, the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory (CBI) to measure personal, work, and client burnout, the Short-Form Health Survey (SF 36 V-2) to measure health status and quality of life, the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (MSQ) to measure job satisfaction regarding vocational needs and values, the Effort-Reward Imbalance Questionnaire (ERI) to measure workplace satisfaction regarding specific assignments and recognition, and the World Health Organization 5 Well-being Index (WHO-5) to measure overall well-being.

In 16% of the studies reviewed, investigators found gender inequality contributes to female healthcare professional’s stress and burnout. For instance, women continue to have unequal pay and fewer opportunities for career advancement in the healthcare profession.

Additionally, people often assume if a woman is wearing scrubs in a hospital, they are the nurse—not the physician. Other than the immediate assumption, studies found some people refer to women physicians by their full name but do not hesitate to call male physicians by their doctor title.

Women in healthcare occupations also get stressed from a poor work-life balance and limited workplace autonomy. Nearly 25% of the studies found women experience limited autonomy. They may get overwhelmed with working long hours and multiple shifts on top of family responsibilities such as taking care of their children and completing housework. Additionally, women may feel “powerless” and “more constricted by time pressures,” the investigators wrote.

However, despite women’s stressful responsibilities, the study revealed many women healthcare professionals were assigned to patients with complex medical problems more often than their male colleagues. Frame pointed out dealing with complex medical problems takes more emotional energy and time—generating extra stress.

Research suggests restorative sleep, physical activity, and a healthy diet of plants and fresh foods can combat stress. Additionally, investigators found in 22% of the studies creating a supportive, flexible working environment, having access to professional development and supportive relationships, and utilizing a mindfulness practice can alleviate stress for women in the healthcare field.

Personal relationships also contribute to a woman’s well-being, including friendships, romantic, and familial relationships, as found in 21% of the studies reviewed.

Investigators wrote how the longitudinal data, self-reported questionnaires, and the homogeneity of smaller participant samples in some studies could have weakened the studies’ strength, serving as a limitation for this review study.

“For future [studies], we propose a definition of well-being that integrates mental health (mind) with physical health (body) resulting in a more complete approach to disease prevention and health promotion that also takes into consideration high life satisfaction, a sense of meaning or purpose, and the ability to manage stress,” investigators wrote. “Furthermore, we want to implement prophylactic methods such as mindfulness practices, educational workshops, institutional policy, and professional- and peer-support to investigate the impact of more holistic wellbeing practices specific to women.”

References

  1. Karakcheyeva, V, Willis-Johnson, H, Corr, P. The Well-Being of Womenin Healthcare Professions: A Comprehensive Review. Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health. 2042; 13. DOI: 10.1177/27536130241232929
  2. Women in Healthcare Face Significantly Higher Burnout Rates Compared to Their Male Colleagues. EurekAlert! February 22, 2024. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1034563?. Accessed February 22, 2024.
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