Objective: To explore the work lives, professional satisfaction, and burnout of US physicians by career stage and differences across sexes, specialties, and practice setting. Participants and Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study that involved a large sample of US physicians from all specialty disciplines in June 2011. The survey included the Maslach Burnout Inventory and items that explored professional life and career satisfaction. Physicians who had been in practice 10 years or less, 11 to 20 years, and 21 years or more were considered to be in early, middle, and late career, respectively. Results: Early career physicians had the lowest satisfaction with overall career choice (being a physician), the highest frequency of work-home conflicts, and the highest rates of depersonalization (all P<.001). Physicians in middle career worked more hours, took more overnight calls, had the lowest satisfaction with their specialty choice and their work-life balance, and had the highest rates of emotional exhaustion and burnout (all P<.001). Middle career physicians were most likely to plan to leave the practice of medicine for reasons other than retirement in the next 24 months (4.8%, 12.5%, and 5.2% for early, middle, and late career, respectively). The challenges of middle career were observed in both men and women and across specialties and practice types. Conclusion: Burnout, satisfaction, and other professional challenges for physicians vary by career stage. Middle career appears to be a particularly challenging time for physicians. Efforts to promote career satisfaction, reduce burnout, and facilitate retention need to be expanded beyond early career interventions and may need to be tailored by career stage.
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