Burnout Symptoms in Physicians Are Different in Men and Women

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician burnout symptoms gender differences 150x150Burnout Symptoms in Physicians are Different in Men and Women

Over the last twenty years multiple studies have shown and average of 1 in 3 physicians suffer burnout symptoms on any given office day. This prevalence of burnout symptoms has been a constant of modern healthcare delivery regardless of specialty and in numerous countries around the world.

The three classic burnout symptoms are measured by the gold standard in research known as the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) after Christina Maslach, a Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley. They are:

1) Emotional Exhaustion

The physician is worn out at the end of the office day and can’t recover their energy in their time off. As time passes your energy level assumes a downward spiral pattern. Ever worsening physical exhaustion is the most classic of the burnout symptoms.

2) “Depersonalization”

Commonly this presents as cynicism, sarcasm, feeling put upon by your patients, staff or institution. If you find yourself blaming or complaining about your patients or needing to “Vent” to your colleagues on a regular basis, you are suffering from depersonalization.

3) “Reduced Accomplishment”

Here you will feel that your work really makes no difference in the world, it lacks meaning or you become convinced that your efforts are sub-standard.

As more and more women enter the physician workforce, researchers have begun to notice and document differences in burnout symptoms – and their presentation order – in men and women.

If you think for a moment about the three burnout symptoms in the MBI, you will probably be able to imagine the differences. Here is what groundbreaking physician burnout symptoms research published in 2011 is showing.

Female Pattern Burnout Symptoms:

Women’s burnout symptoms often follow the classic, three-part MBI Pattern you see above … in the very same order.

Stage One:

Burnout symptoms in female doctors most often begins with Emotional Exhaustion. Women often play multiple caregiver and support roles outside their work responsibilities. There is a finite amount of energy to put to use. Ultimately, exhaustion is the result.

Stage Two:

Depersonalization and cynicism. These two thought and speech patterns are a dysfunctional coping mechanism when the female doctor starts to feel the burden of exhaustion. Venting feels somewhat better for a very short period of time, but ultimately does nothing to restore your energy. Cynicism is an especially challenging frame of mind for a woman to maintain before stage three kicks in.

Stage Three:

Reduced Accomplishment, doubting the quality of your practice and the difference your work makes in your  patients lives. The most common phrase in this phase is, “What’s the Use?”

satisfaction mind flip

Male Pattern Burnout Symptoms:

Stage One:

Men more commonly start their burnout symptoms with depersonalization and cynicism – which serves as a coping mechanism for overwhelming stress. “My patients are such a bunch of $%@+!%”. This is, again, a dysfunctional response to the inherent stress of being a doctor and is only a temporary relief. After all, these are the people you spent decades learning to serve.

Stage Two:

Emotional exhaustion follows. It worsens until they are no longer able to cope.

Stage Three:

By comparison to the female physician burnout symptoms, men’s stage three is remarkable for it’s absence.

Male physicians are don’t often feel that their stage one and two burnout symptoms have any effect on the quality of the care they offer. The result is a cynical, exhausted male physician who keeps battling on despite their overwhelming burnout symptoms because they are convinced they are  still a “good doctor”.

This absence of a Phase Three allows these male physicians to keep practicing in denial of their burnout symptoms despite the exhaustion and cynicism their coworkers and patients witness on the job.

Early Warning Signs by Gender

If you are a practicing physician, nurse or other healthcare provider here are the early warning signs and patterns of burnout symptoms to watch for.


Exhaustion and a feeling of not being able to recharge your batteries, followed by early signs of cynicism, sarcasm and  blaming your patients.


Cynicism and blaming your patients or clients are often the very first burnout symptoms, followed by exhaustion and falling energy and engagement.

When you notice these signs, take a breath and a break.
Recognize them for what they are – Physician Burnout Symptoms.

This is a cue

You, your staff, your patients and your family will be glad you did.

Here is a link to an online copy of the physician burnout symptoms research publication referenced in this blog post

Tags: Physician Burnout, physician burnout treatment, Physician Coaching, physician stress, physician burnout symptoms