Burnout refers to long-term stress that derives from feeling emotionally depleted, being cynical, and experiencing a low sense of personal achievement. Any working individual can experience burnout but nowadays, physician burnout is becoming more and more common. A recent study found that over 80% of physicians’ experience at least one symptom of burnout. Every day, you see patients who come to you for help when they are feeling ill, depressed or are suffering. In turn, you present them with potential treatment options to help alleviate their troubles. However, why is it that when you need help for burnout recovery and prevention, you refuse to take your own advice? Why do some of you remain hesitant rather than wanting to get better? Here are some of the most common reasons why doctors refuse help for burnout:
1. Doctors are nervous about confidentiality breaches – Some doctors feel conflicted about seeking help internally within their own institution because they are nervous about confidentiality breaches. They worry that the information might be shared with others who will later hold it against them or use it to prove them incapable of doing their job.
2. Doctors worry about the consequences – A majority of doctors do not want to admit when they are burned out because they worry that if they receive a mental health diagnosis, it could greatly impact the renewal of their medical license. Without such licenses and certifications, the source of livelihood is lost.
3. Doctors do not know where to seek help – To date, there are no research programs that have been proven to help tackle and prevent physician burnout. For this reason, some doctors are confused about who to ask and where to seek help. They tend to look at hard facts of effectiveness before trying something new and unfortunately, such evidence takes years to gather and formulate into a proven solution.
4. Doctors do not see the value of reaching out – Doctors tend to see the value of medical approaches on topics that have been thoroughly researched and physician burnout, though common, is a topic that has not been researched all that much. Some doctors are skeptical or reluctant to reach out because they do not think that any therapeutic program will work, despite the effectiveness of tackling the early symptoms of burnout.
5. Doctors believe that they can handle burnout on their own – Most doctors believe that they can handle burnout on their own because after all, they are trained professionals. They believe that in being able to provide care to everyone else, they can surely take care of themselves. However, doctors often miss that sometimes a different perspective is needed to see things that cannot be seen on one’s own.
6. Doctors do not want to seem weak – Studying in medical school, training during residency, dealing with patient charts and appointments – doctors learn to handle all of these things. So, when something like burnout comes along, doctors do not want to seem weak and they brush it off as the stress of performing everyday day tasks. The fact of the matter is that even though professional support can offer benefits to doctors and their patients, it takes courage to reach out and admit the need for help.
“Dealing with high stress and death on a regular basis can take its toll. Physicians not only are supposed to cure, but they also have to heal families when cure is not possible. Seeing others through a difficult journey with a loved one is more than just giving out prescriptions. It is about being there – sometimes constantly. There are other contributing issues beyond the direct interaction with high-stress situations. Overall, there is a lack of control over schedules and time. This can result in poor sleep patterns, interference with family activities and events, and poor self-care. Because there is a patient in need at the end of every phone call and every office or hospital interaction, setting limits is beyond difficult. The result can be physical and emotional exhaustion leading to cynicism and burnout. Add to that the increasingly litigious society in which we live and there is a recipe for quite a few failures,” wrote Elaine Cox, medical director of infection prevention at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
If you do not take good care of yourself, how do you expect to provide quality care to your patients? You may be living with the guilt or shame of seeking help but in de-emphasizing or softening your own suffering, you are not acknowledging your true feelings. “Given these responses, it’s no wonder that physicians experiencing burnout don’t reach out more often for any support. However, if we never take the risk, we will never reap the rewards. There is no real solution because it’s an ongoing perplexity, but continuing to raise awareness of our own thought processes and conditioning will allow for more effective strategies and programs to be created both institutionally and independently” wrote Maiysha Clairborne, integrative medicine physician.
As a doctor, you might think that you see more several medical cases on a day to day basis so burnout is nothing to be concerned about. However, in the world of medicine, burnout can have severe consequences. Symptoms of burnout can lead to deteriorated health, increased medical errors, the inability to provide quality care, poor performance, difficulty maintaining relationships at work and at home, and even suicide. According to studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, physicians are 2x more likely to commit suicide as opposed to non-physicians. Statistics show that suicide rates account for more than 26% of deaths among physicians ages 25 to 39.
Every job occupation carries with it its own type of stress but typically, this stress plays a small role in a much bigger problem. Pay attention to what is causing you to feel overwhelmed and if you can find the cause, you can work towards finding a solution to avoid burnout. If you are reluctant to seek professional help, start by making a few changes on your own. For instance:
- Create a positive workplace;
- Let go of your negativity by focusing on relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or yoga;
- Take some time off to be with your family or to experience a little “me time”;
- Reach out to your family or friends when you are feeling stressed out or overwhelmed;
- Develop healthy eating patterns and get enough sleep;
- Find an interest outside of medicine;
- Identify the internal and external factors that are causing you to feel stressed out or overwhelmed;
- Take short breaks at work;
- Hire assistants who will help ease your workload;
- Strive to balance your personal and professional life;
Based on data gathered from numerous research studies, it has been determined that stress is the most common cause of physician burnout. “Burnout is more common than many physicians think. No health care provider is immune. It is essential for physicians, as well as their co-workers and families, to understand the signs and symptoms associated with burnout and intervene early. Burnout can have severe consequences including depression, and in severe cases — physician suicide. These are completely avoidable if we begin to better understand what the root causes of burnout are. By understanding the etiology of burnout, we may be able to design a better working environment for today’s physicians,” wrote Kevin R. Campbell, cardiac electrophysiologist. In a clinical setting, stress is inevitable. While there are both physical and emotional aspects to physician burnout treatment, you need to determine what works best for you – there is a no one good or proper solution. For some doctors, it may be two weeks off to take a much-needed vacation, while for others, it may be a change of specialty or a new career path. Do some self-reflecting and find out what it is that can help you sustain resilience in the face of stress. You owe it yourself and you owe it to your patients to maintain your health.
- Doctors often worry about the consequences of choosing to take time off.
- Paying attention to what's making you feel overwhelmed is crucial to recovery and staying healthy.
- Stress appears to be the most common cause of physicians' burnout.