We have all experienced feelings of burnout at different points in our career, being overwhelmed, depressed, and other negative reactions to our work. For our nation’s physicians, according to recent surveys, these feelings of burnout are pervasive and seemingly getting worse. In fact, in a 2018 Medscape report, almost half of physicians surveyed reported suffering from symptoms of burnout. When a doctor is suffering from burnout, naturally the quality of patient care suffers.
The reasons for a doctor feeling the effects of burnout vary between large systems and small and differ between specialties, but common themes exist when the causes are discussed.
- Today’s physicians will almost unanimously assert that they spend far too much of their time performing clerical tasks. A time study sponsored by the American Medical Association showed that for every hour a physician spends with patients, they spend up to two hours creating notes, documenting phone calls, ordering tests, reviewing results, and other non-patient-facing functions.
- Physicians feel disillusioned because other tasks take away from the reasons they went to medical school in the first place. You practice medicine because of your desire to treat and help patients.
- The added burden of clerical tasks and non-patient related activities is causing doctors to spend too much time “off the clock” and on their own time performing documentary tasks. Physicians are losing control over their personal time with family and losing the battle for life-work balance.
The extent of physician burnout is well-documented. Across the country, hospital system leaders are finally treating it as the challenge that has become. Let’s look at a few ways that physicians can cope with feelings of burnout.
- Recognize the symptoms and admit when there is a problem. Physicians are often looked at as “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” because of their heroic efforts to save lives and the commitment they have made to years of education and residency to earn their place as healthcare professionals. It is important for doctors to recognize the signs of burnout and take action.
- Get involved. Modern healthcare system administrators, hospital executives, and others in the “C-Suite” recognize that there is a burnout problem and most are actively working on ways to solve the problem. Be a part of the solution and lend your voice to potential solutions. Physician burnout will never be solved in a vacuum, and it is too critical an issue to leave it for someone else to solve.
- Take vacation time. When the time rolls around for your vacation, a single week is not enough to recharge your batteries. Two weeks is a more appropriate amount of time to fully disconnect from the workplace and enjoy quality time with your loved ones. You might even have the option to take a sabbatical.
- Diet and exercise. Doctors spend a lot of time counseling their patients that the key to a healthier life is through diet and exercise. That is such good advice, medical professionals should heed it themselves. Medical studies have shown regular exercise can reduce feelings of stress and depression. Further, eating healthier and balanced meals will promote better energy and help maintain ideal body weight.
- Talk to a mentor. Having a mentor is advisable for every type of career. After all, it is always helpful to talk to someone who may have experienced the same things or has navigated difficult times in their career. A mentor is someone who can be used as a sounding board for ideas or just be there to listen and interject sage advice. Holding stress or feelings of burnout inside will cause those feelings to escalate talking about them with someone is always helpful.
Physician burnout is real and finding ways to alleviate the growing problem is a concern for the entire healthcare community. Each organization needs to understand the levels of burnout being experienced by their teams and work to determine the root cause. Developing new systems, redesigning clinical procedures, and improving the physician work environment is going to be a team effort.