Older physicians’ reporting of psychological distress, alcohol use, burnout and workplace stressors

Chanaka Wijeratne*, Carly Johnco, Brian Draper, Joanne K. Earl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: 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. Methods: 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. Results: 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. Conclusion: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478-487
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number5
Early online date12 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • physician health
  • aging
  • burnout


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