Although 96% of plastic surgeons say they would choose the specialty again, COVID-19 had a significant impact on their happiness, according to the most recent Medscape Plastic Surgeon Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report. Before the pandemic, 70% reported being happy, but now that number has dropped to 58%.

“In the wake of a global pandemic, many are re-evaluating their lifestyles and where they can find happiness,” the report noted. “For physicians, the struggles that COVID-19 continues to bring, like dealing with vaccine information or adjusting to hybrid work models, can affect their lives beyond practicing medicine.”

In 2022 there is a renewed awareness of the toll that stress can take on the plastic surgery lifestyle, with a focus on work life balance, burnout and wellness. Of the plastic surgeon respondents in the annual Medscape survey, 40% say they would take a salary reduction in exchange for a better work life balance.

Here are seven things you might not know about the plastic surgeon specialty:

Plastic surgeon income is higher than any other specialty.

Plastic surgeon income has risen 10% since 2021 and surgeons continue to earn more money than any other medical specialty, with an average annual compensation of $576,000, followed by orthopedic surgeons ($557,000) and cardiologists ($490,000), according to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2022.

Their net worth is also higher, with more than a quarter worth more than $5 million.

When it comes to wealth, 26% report a net worth of more than $5 million, the highest of 29 specialties. Meanwhile 22% of surgeons reported a net worth of less than $500,000, according to the Medscape Physician Debt and Net Worth Report 2022.

Their days include less paperwork and admin duties than other specialties.

They spend less time on paperwork and administration, specifically 12.8 fewer hours per week, than most other specialties. The only specialties that rank lower are emergency medicine, otolaryngology, dermatology, ophthalmology and anesthesiology.

Nearly a quarter live in homes larger than 5,000 square feet.

Plastic surgeons are second only to orthopedic surgeons when it comes to living in big houses­— 23% say they live in a house larger than 5,000 square feet.

Nearly a quarter are still paying off school debt.

About one quarter of them, 24%, are paying off student loans. But that’s much lower than other specialties. It’s estimated that 76% to 89% of medical school graduates have school debt and the average medical school debt is $215,900, not including undergraduate or other school debt.

More than a quarter suffer from clinical depression.

Twenty-eight percent of plastic surgeons surveyed say they have clinical depression, defined as severe depression that lasts and is not caused by a normal grief. Although more than half of respondents said depression does not affect their interaction with patients, others said they were easily exasperated with patients, less motivated with taking patient notes, expressed their frustration in front of patients and made errors they might not ordinarily make.

Nearly half of plastic surgeons report feeling burned out, and it disproportionally affects female surgeons.                                             

While the most burned out physicians are those who work in emergency medicine (60%) and critical care (56%), 40% of plastic surgeons report feeling burned out. Burnout also disproportionally affects female surgeons (50% compared to 37% for male surgeons). Asked if burnout had a negative effect on their personal relationships, 75% of respondents said yes. Additionally, a literature review of the plastic surgery specialty and job burnout found there is vast overlap among burnout, depression and substance abuse.

The plastic surgeons surveyed said the leading causes of burnout are:

    • Too many bureaucratic tasks like charting and paperwork
    • Too many hours at work
    • Lack of control/autonomy over their lives
    • Insufficient compensation/salary
    • Lack of respect from patients

Respondents said the top ways they cope with burnout at work is by reducing their work hours, making workflow or staff changes to ease the workload and hiring additional clinical staff.  To maintain work life balance, outside of work they pursue activities/hobbies they enjoy, exercise and spend time with family and friends.

A nationwide focus towards burnout and work-life balance

The increased burnout among plastic surgeons mirrors a nationwide shift made clear when a Mayo Clinic survey published in 2021 found that 1 in 5 physicians would most likely leave their current practice within 2 years and 1 in 3 intended to reduce work hours over the following year. And while the pandemic was a factor, only 7%  said they were leaving specifically due to pandemic burnout.

Plastic surgeon stress and burnout aren’t new. What is new is how today’s surgeons react to it, says Dr. Richard Korentager, co-chair of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ Project Well initiative. Where it was once accepted that plastic surgeons would work 100 hours a week, have an unfulfilling marriage and miss all of their kids’ sports games, surgeons are now pushing back against that notion of the plastic surgery lifestyle.

“That takes a toll and as the generations change, we’ve seen a rapid shift in terms of what people will accept and things began to change,” Dr. Korentager says.

ASPS is working to expand its wellness initiative, by adding articles, multimedia, podcasts, research papers and other resources to help combat stress and job burnout among its members. Topics will include awareness and mindfulness, aging parents, organizational culture, workload, family life, promotion, tenure, spouse/significant other and health.

To read the full Medscape Plastic Surgeon Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2022, click here.

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