Older Physicians’ Reporting of Psychological Distress, Alcohol Use, Burnout and Workplace Stressors

Published:September 12, 2020DOI:


      • What is the primary question addressed by this study?
        Do older physicians report the same level of general psychological distress, burnout, alcohol use, and workplace stressors as younger colleagues?
      • What is the main finding of this study?
        Older physicians reported significantly less psychological distress, burnout and suicidal ideation than younger and middle aged colleagues, but not alcohol use. This group was also the least likely to report all work-related stressors as “very stressful.”
      • What is the meaning of the finding?
        The overall pattern of results supports an age-related maturation in coping style and greater professional experience, and/or natural selection toward more psychologically resilient physicians over time.



      Most of the published data on the psychological health of physicians has focused on the youngest members of the profession. The aims of this analysis were to determine how psychological morbidity changes across the career cycle.


      We report data from the cross-sectional National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students, conducted in Australia. Age differences in psychological distress, suicidal ideation, alcohol use, burnout, workplace, and personal stressors were examined for younger (40 years and younger), middle aged (41–60), and older (61+) physicians.


      A total of 10,038 physicians responded. Older physicians reported significantly less psychological distress, burnout and suicidal ideation than younger and middle aged colleagues, findings that were maintained after adjusting for sex and excluding trainees. There were no group differences in overall alcohol use and high risk drinking. On multivariate analysis, the largest contributor to psychological distress in older physicians was a past history of mental disorder. There was a decline across age groups in the endorsement as “very stressful” of work-life conflict and work-anxiety stressors such as fear of making mistakes. Older physicians were least likely to feel very stressed by all workplace stressors.


      The better psychological health of older physicians highlights the need to consider physician health according to age and career stage. Apart from the decline in work stressors, in particular work-life conflict, there may be a survivor effect such that physicians who practice into older age have developed greater resilience and professional maturation.

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