Lately, the topic of physician burnout has been talked about quite a bit in and around the healthcare industry, and justifiably so. A 2012 national study of physician burnout in a large sample of US physicians from all specialty disciplines found that nearly half of all the physicians that participated in the study reported having experienced at least one symptom of burnout. Other studies suggest that approximately 1 out of every 3 physicians is experiencing burnout at any given time.
As you can see this is an issue that affects a large number of physicians and truly has the ability to impact any physician at some point in their career and the repercussions can be far reaching. The consequences of physician burnout may not only hinder the performance of the physician but can also be bad for other members of the staff and obviously isn’t good for patients. From lower quality of care which in turn can lead to decreased patient satisfaction and outcomes, to increases in medical errors that can result in legal action for the organization. Beyond that, these can compound to worsen the burnout symptoms the physician is feeling and can easily lead to depression.
So, what can be done about this horrible epidemic? Well, it turns out that prevention is the best cure.
Okay, stopping stress completely might not be possible, but stress can definitely be a large factor in physician burnout so lowering the levels of stress in your life is a key first step to prevention. While it’s easy to talk about the need to reduce the stress in your life, it’s actually going through with it might not be so easy.
The first step is to actually identify what is causing the stress in the first place. A good place to start is the work-life balance. Are you spending so much of your time at work that you feel your time off is simply spent recuperating rather than actually enjoying it? Do you ever feel like when you walk out the door of your job there is a timer just counting down until you have to come right back? If so, your work-life balance can definitely use some TLC.
While there may be nothing you are able to do about your call schedule or work hours you do have the ability to control the efficiency of the tasks you have while you’re on the clock. Increasing efficiency, especially at work, is a great way to reduce some of the stress in your life. Below are some ideas on how to make that happen.
- Become more proficient with computer systems so tasks take you less time
- Trade-off tasks with a co-worker (or even better a few) so you do them less often
- Delegate some tasks to junior staff
- Explore to see if any tasks are unnecessary or can be streamlined
Now not everyone may have the ability to delegate tasks or be able to share responsibilities with coworkers, but the point is to keep an eye open as you go throughout your day and I’ll bet you are able to find a few ways to improve efficiency and begin getting that stress out of your life.
Identifying the Symptoms
So, we’ve talked about how prevention is the best medicine and about how reducing stress can help to prevent the burnout that plagues so many physicians across the country, but we all know life doesn’t always go exactly as planned and stress can sneak in unexpectedly and wreak havoc. Next to prevention, catching the symptoms early can be key in fighting back.
According to Dr. Dike Drummond, who is an author, speaker and consultant on the subject of physician burnout, the three main symptoms to watch out for are exhaustion (both physical and emotional), depersonalization and lack of efficacy.
Of the three, exhaustion may be the easiest symptom to recognize in yourself, although it can still be difficult given the long hours and call rotation that is common in the medical field. One signal can be thinking about or wanting to quit.
Depersonalization can be a little more difficult to pinpoint. Everyone complains about work from time to time but if you notice that you are doing it constantly this could signal an issue.
Finally, if you find yourself questioning if what you’re doing is really making a difference, could mean that you are experiencing a lack of efficacy.
These can come about either by building up over a long period of time or can be triggered suddenly by events that may have nothing to do with your work life, such as a divorce or death of a relative. Regardless of the cause, being able to notice the symptoms is a crucial first step in taking care of the issue.
What to Do
If you feel like you might be experiencing one or more of the symptoms associated with physician burnout the good news is you’re not alone. With so many physicians experiencing burnout there has been quite a bit of research on the subject and many places even have programs in place to help combat it. So, the first thing to do is reach out and see what resources might be available.
Many doctors have reported that they have felt as though they might be judged for reaching out or that there is a stigma associated with the condition. The key to keep in mind is just what we talked about earlier. This is a very real problem that can affect anyone at some point in their career.
If you work at a place that doesn’t have resources yet, then you are going to have to make some changes yourself to take back your happiness. The internet is a great place to start educating yourself with steps you can take. Just be sure that you stick to the plan you choose and put yourself first.
Remember, you have to take care of yourself so you can, in turn, take care of your patients.