Does Practicing Obstetrics Affect Burnout in Early-Career Family Physicians?

Submitted on Tue, 06/09/2020 - 15:17

Previous research has shown higher burnout rates among physicians when compared to other US workers. Physician burnout is particularly concerning as it can not only lead to worse patient outcomes, but also affect the physician’s own health.

Practicing obstetrics (OB) used to be fairly common for family physicians, but in the last 40 years, that number has steadily declined with only 8% of family physicians practicing OB in 2016. However, 22% of recent graduates plan to include OB in their practice.

A recent study published in Family Medicine found that practicing obstetrics presented a paradox for family physicians in terms of protecting from and contributing to burnout.

Researchers conducted telephone interviews with 56 early-career family physicians identified as a diverse and representative sample in terms of volume of obstetrical deliveries, or reason for not currently performing deliveries, as well as geographic variation.

Family physicians described the feelings of joy experienced from practicing OB and the diversity OB brings to their clinical practice as ways in which OB protects against burnout, while describing stress/fear and time commitment associated with providing OB care as mechanisms for how OB contributes to their experience of burnout. They noted that the ways in which obstetrics contribute to burnout are temporary and confined to short points in time, while the protective nature is ongoing.

“OB can prevent burnout for family physicians through diversity and joy, and it can cause burnout through stress and odd hours. The ability to choose to practice OB and be supported seems to be a key determinant here,” said Dr. Tyler Barreto, Core Faculty, Sea Mar Marysville Family Medicine Residency.

Physicians who included OB in their practice often pointed out that the sources of their burnout were not directly related to the practice of OB. Some described stress from caring for complex patients and the daily tedium of administrative tasks, the lack of diversity in daily outpatient care, and the inefficiency or demands of the broader medical system.

This new study sheds light on previous research that showed lower rates of burnout in family physicians who practice OB. Practicing OB appears to increase job satisfaction, especially for those family physicians who were trained and committed to providing such care, thus might be protective of burnout for those physicians. On the other hand, OB may not be protective for family physicians who do not want to practice OB. Authors noted that future research might explore the relationship between job satisfaction, scope of practice, and burnout.

The full article, The Impact of Obstetrics on Burnout Among Early-Career Family Physicians, can be found by clicking here.