Headache Medicine Specialists Have High Burnout Rate

doctor stress
doctor stress
Due to difficult work environments and regulations, headache specialists have one of the highest rates of physician burnout.

Headache medicine specialists have one of the highest rates of burnout compared with other physician specialists, according to research published in Headache. In fact, their burnout rate is twice that of working adults.

The survey — the first of its kind to focus on headache specialists — is just the latest body of evidence demonstrating the increasing level of burnout and career dissatisfaction among medical professionals.

Randolph Evans, MD and Kamalika Ghosh, MSc, from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, distributed an email survey to 749 physicians in the American Headache Society containing questions about demographics, professional quality of life and satisfaction, future practice plans, and professional burnout. Burnout was measured using the Maslach Burnout Inventory.

Out of 127 responses received, 66 physicians (57.4%) reported symptoms of professional burnout reflected in high Emotional Exhaustion and/or high Depersonalization. Sixty-two percent of respondents agreed that headache medicine is becoming more complicated without benefits seen for the patients. Only 14% believe that headache medicine specialists are fairly compensated and 59% say they would go into headache medicine again if they were 4th year medical students.

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Respondents showed widespread dissatisfaction with work schedules, government regulations, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance policies, malpractice concerns, patient telephone calls, and compensation.

“We became headache medicine specialists with great enthusiasm and idealism to reduce the burden of headache and suffering where headache is so often unappreciated, misdiagnosed, and inappropriately treated,” the authors wrote. “Although the practice of headache medicine can be personally meaningful and fulfilling, the field can be especially stressful and demanding. We spend long hours with patients who may have the most challenging chronic and sometimes intractable headaches and comorbidities.”

The findings may be a warning of decreasing access to headache medicine specialists in the future, given that in the next one to three years, 21.3% of headache specialists plan to cut back on hours, 14.2% plan to cut back on patients seen, 12.6% plan to switch to a cash practice, and 33.9% plan to accelerate their retirement plans due to the way medicine and health care is changing.


  1. Evans RW, Ghosh K. A Survey of Headache Medicine Specialists on Career Satisfaction and Burnout. Headache. 2015; doi:10.1111/head.12708.