Marriage, children cause more burnout for female physician

By now, we know that women physicians have higher rates of burnout than their male counterparts, with increased levels of depression and suicide. In the first article of this series, we discussed the contribution of patient care to burnout, and offered strategies to combat the increased psychosocial demands that patients place on women physicians.

But aside from the stressors of patient care, any discussion of burnout on women physicians must include the issue of role strain, in which women find themselves juggling professional life with the additional roles of spouse and mother.

This role strain causes a powerful conflict between responsibilities at work and at home, and is a particular issue for women physicians because they typically take on a much greater burden of household and childcare compared to their male colleagues.

For example, in a study of married physicians with children, men reported that 82% of “all or most” household duties were performed by their spouses, as opposed to only 5% by the spouses of women physicians. [i]In a study of pediatricians, women doctors performed 66% of child care and 63% of household duties, as compared to men who performed 19% of child care and 26% of household duties.

And while this increase in burden on women physicians may be partly attributed to traditional societal gender roles, the reality is that most male physicians report having a stay-at-home spouse whose primary role is to provide for the household, with only 12% of their spouses working at full-time jobs, while nearly all of the partners of women physicians work full-time outside the home.

Without someone at home to manage the household responsibilities during the day, women physicians may find themselves spending their after-work hours completing the job of managing the home and children. This additional demand on women workers has been termed the “second shift,” and is a contributor to burnout.

Additionally, work-home conflict can be a major source of stress for women physicians. Women often report a sense of obligation to spend more time at home, and make greater accommodations to their work schedule in order to manage household tasks than men physicians, including making a career change to accommodate their spouse’s career or child-raising responsibilities.

Women physicians also face strong feelings of guilt—when they are managing the home, they worry about not being available to their patients. While at the office, women often feel guilty about missing time with their children. The role of being a mom is so stressful that women physicians actually report the best mental health when the kids turn 19—or in other words, leave home. Read the full article here.