The Physician Burnout Epidemic
It seems that physician burnout has only grown in number over the years. More and more physicians are experiencing it, and it’s no surprise since the cards are stacked against them. This epidemic in the United States has negative effects on all aspects of medical care, and that’s why it’s crucial to know and recognize burnout when you see it or feel it. If you can recognize it in the early stages, you’ll be able to combat it better. Unfortunately, burnout can lead to severe depression (including thoughts or attempts of suicide). Learn how to deal with physician burnout rather than cope, and you can find yourself in a healthier mental state that will better serve your life and career.
Define Physician Burnout
Burnout is simply characterized by a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. A common metaphor used to describe physician burnout is a battery. When you are on the constant go and finally have a day or several hours off, you should be able to recharge. You would come back to work ready to care for the patients of the day with a fully charged battery. With physician burnout, the main difference is that you are unable to recharge. You would return to work, still on low battery mode, and constantly functioning as such. Burnout stems from a disorder of energy metabolism (no, it’s not the Kreb’s cycle).
Some prefer to compare burnout to an energy account, which acts similar to a bank account. You don’t want to dip into a negative balance with your energy account because it affects you, your personal life, and your medical practice. When you utilize energy for activities in your life and work, you must deposit energy into your account with rebalance and rest. It is crucial.
The problem is that most physicians don’t stop working (by taking work home with them) or refuse to take an extended day off. This is because in physicians learn early on that taking time off have significant negative effects on your career during their time in medical school, residency, or practice. The reality is that burnout has a more damaging effect on you, your personal life, and your career than taking off an extra day or two to recharge, rebalance and rest.
Symptoms & Effects
In the 1970s Christina Maslach and colleagues at the University of San Francisco developed the Maslach Burnout Inventory to diagnose physicians. For an accepted standard burnout diagnosis, there are three main symptoms:
- Exhaustion: Your physical and emotional levels are severely low and spiraling downward. The typical thought process with this form of exhaustion is that you’re not sure how much longer you can keep on this way.
- Depersonalization: Beware of cynicism, sarcasm, and constant venting/complaining about your job or patients. Some call it “compassion fatigue”, which means you are emotionally unavailable for patients (or anyone in your life).
- Lack of efficacy: Self-doubt runs rampant in your brain each day. This is when you doubt the meaning and/or quality of your own work.
Can You Even Avoid Physician Burnout?
Avoiding physician burnout will be difficult, but you need to take all the precautions you can. There are an array of causes for physician burnout, but they all stem from the nature of the beast: practicing medicine. It can feel impossible to avoid this epidemic, but it is necessary to try for your well-being, your family’s well-being, and your patients well-being. The best practices to implement in your days are: lowering your stress levels and the drain they produce, and improving your ability to recharge and rest. You may be thinking, “Easier said than done.” We get it. It’s understandable to be reluctant to change; however, you should recognize that it’s necessary for your own quality of life. It can be challenging to rewire your thinking patterns and include different practices to your lifestyle. But we strongly urge you to try in hopes that you can avoid experiencing physician burnout.
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