This Should Worry Us All

A study published today in the Journal of the American Headache Society shows a grim future for headache specialists and therefore headache sufferers.  This  growing lack of specialists or lack of interest in headache specialization will be the greatest challenge that headache sufferers will face in the future. The hope of finding better treatments will be a moot point if we don’t have experts who know how to use them. Something must be done to change societies perspective towards headaches sufferers and those who treat them.  Headache sufferers must have a realistic expectation of the people who care about them and are trying to help them or the headache specialist may become extinct.

Here is a summary of the study.


Physicians report increasing rates of career dissatisfaction and professional burnout, which may be related to the practice environment and subspecialty. There has never been a survey of professional burnout among headache medicine specialists.


The aim of the present survey was to learn more about how headache medicine physicians are affected by these issues.


An email survey was sent to 749 physician members of the American Headache Society with questions or statements about demographics, professional quality of life and satisfaction, future practice plans, and professional burnout using the Maslach Burnout Inventory.


In a sample of 127 headache medicine specialists, 66 (57.4%) physicians reported symptoms of professional burnout reflected by high Emotional Exhaustion and/or high Depersonalization. There is widespread dissatisfaction with work schedules, government regulations, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, insurance company policies, malpractice concerns, patient telephone calls, and compensation. Sixty-two percent of respondents concur that headache medicine is becoming more complicated without patient benefit, 14% concur that headache medicine specialists are fairly compensated, and 59% would go into headache medicine again if they were fourth year medical students. In the next 1 to 3 years, 21.3% plan to cut back on hours, 14.2% plan to cut back on patients seen, and 12.6% plan to switch to a cash practice. Medicine and healthcare are changing in such a way that 33.9% concur that they will accelerate their retirement plans.


Headache medicine specialists have one of the highest rates of burnout compared to other physician specialists, which is twice the rate of working adults. Physicians’ age and practice environment and experience are related with their career satisfaction and professional burnout. Some attributes of career satisfaction can decrease burnout by reducing emotional exhaustion and depersonalization and by enhancing personal accomplishment. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the practice environment. These findings may portend decreasing access to headache medicine specialists in the future if specialists cut back on hours and patients seen, accelerate their retirement plans, and fewer neurologists are attracted to headache medicine.

Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain

Volume 55, Issue 10, pages 1448–1457, November/December 2015