Doctor Reputation

Mental Health and Medical Professionals

Mental Health and Medical Professionals

Working in healthcare can be rather demanding and overwhelming. On average, healthcare professionals work over 50 hours per week! From cramming in medical school and training during residency to dealing with increased workloads and growing patient expectations – the stress is likely to take a toll of your mental health. As a definition, mental health refers to your condition with regards to your emotional and psychological well-being. A recent study found that over 80% of physicians, such as you, experience at least one symptom of burnout, including emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and low sense of personal achievement.

  • Emotional exhaustion – feeling emotionally drained and frustrated;
  • Cynicism - being cynical of oneself, patients, and others;
  • Low sense of personal achievement – experiencing a low sense of personal satisfaction with work;

Symptoms of physician burnout tend to vary, depending on how well you are handling your job responsibilities and how well you are taking care of yourself. It can come in all shapes and sizes, causing you to lose interest not just in what you do but also in activities outside of work. To get a better sense of different viewpoints of burnout, here are a few examples: feeling irritable, feeling unmotivated or uninterested, lacking in initiation, having trouble maintaining healthy habits, having trouble sleeping, having trouble concentrating, constantly feeling tired, and withdrawing from family, friends, and society. Yet, burnout does not only affect you. It affects those around you as well – especially your patients. If you are continuously frustrated with your work environment, it could be more difficult for you to build trusting and lasting relationships with patients.

There are several factors that can lead to burnout, including: lacking control over schedules and time, working in a chaotic environment, practicing clinical medicine, juggling personal and professional life, and others. In a recently published editorial, up to 65% of burnout rates are seen among various specialties. The highest percent of burnout is seen in primary care and emergency medicine professionals. The lowest percent of burnout is seen in healthcare professionals such as dermatologists, pediatricians, pathologist, and psychiatrists. Moreover, dermatologists and ophthalmologists experience high levels of job satisfaction and content, while emergency medicine physicians and radiologists experience low levels of job satisfaction and content.
Nowadays, burnout rates are escalating in the United States and in Europe. Burnt-out physicians are considered at the top of the list of healthcare professionals who are more likely to leave medicine due to personal experiences with mental health issues. They also account for above average rates of physician suicide. In the United States alone, around 400 physicians commit suicide each year. Well over 25% of deaths are among physicians aged 25 to 39.

Working to address physician burnout and enhance your mental health starts by being able to recognize the early signs of burnout and seeking help early on. By working to prevent early signs, you can increase your chances of quick recovery. Do not feel discouraged – according to a recent survey conducted among 600 doctors, over 24% revealed that they believe there is a stigma connected to their mental health issues and that it prevents them from seeking help. It may help to turn to your family and friends for support. No one wants the worst about themselves to come out, but sometimes hearing the truth may be exactly what you need to get a jolt of reality. “I felt that admitting my problems would suggest an inability to cope with being a doctor, that it would make me bad at my job and that I would be forced to quit,” she says. “It took nearly six months of hell for me to finally confess to my partner, and several more to tell my parents. After nearly a year of struggling, I spoke to my educational supervisor and she helped me talk to occupational health professionals, who convinced me to receive counselling. These problems aren’t gone but they are manageable” said Harriet from West Yorkshire.

Causes of burnout may include:

  • Longer work hours - You may be working too hard and putting in too many hours at work. Findings reveal that over 80% of physicians are overextended or have reached their full capacity.
  • Decreased patient time – With countless papers piling up at your office, you may find it more difficult to spend quality time with your patients. In fact, over 70% of physicians have revealed that new innovations, such as electronic health records (EHR), have reduced their face time with patients.
  • Excessive administrative tasks – As a physician, it is your goal to provide patients with the best care possible. However, today’s never-ending administrative tasks and regulatory programs may be getting in the way of your quality time spent with patients.
  • Diminished wages – You are well aware of the fact that medical school costs a lot. So when you take on a career in medicine, you hope to be able to support yourself, your family, and pay off your student debt. Unfortunately, with healthcare reforms taking a turn for the worse, wages are diminishing while workloads are increasing.

Other causes of burnout also include a negative work environment, a high pressure environment, family responsibilities, and more. As a result of the causes of burnout, consequences will follow. Some of the most common consequences of burnout include poor patient care, deteriorated health, early retirement, and high suicide rates. Yet, physician burnout can also negatively affect your professionalism, your patients’ satisfaction, and thus lead to increased medical errors. Due to the fact that burnout is a long-term reaction to stress, it is important that you take the time to overcome it. So what can you do to overcome burnout and boost your mental health?

  • Maintain a flexible work schedule;
  • Prioritize your responsibilities in terms of significance;
  • Attend a healthcare convention and learn about the latest medical news, procedures, and treatments;
  • Take short breaks at work whenever you can;
  • Find a hobby outside of work;
  • Work together with staff members and colleagues in order to enhance team performance;
  • Take some time off from work to be with family or enjoy some ‘me time’;
  • Develop healthy habits by eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and exercising a few times a week;
  • Reach out to your family, friends, or colleagues when you are feeling overwhelmed or experiencing early signs of burnout;
  • Balance your personal and professional life;

After years and years of conducted research studies, it has been discovered that stress is the number one cause of mental health deterioration and physician burnout. The most stressful jobs are the ones that involve a great deal of tasks, responsibilities, extended work hours, and have little power over the results – including the role of a physician. However, in every line of work, or even in life for that matter, stress is unavoidable. It is up to you how you choose to deal with it. Attempt to change the aspects that may have lead to your burnout by making a few changes yourself. For instance, if driving to work every day causes you stress due to traffic jams or boredom due to having the same routine, consider taking a different route to work or even taking a different mode of transportation.

Consider your options and start to rediscover why you got into the practice of medicine in the first place. Sometimes, a stressful job is not the only cause of burnout, so it is important that you pay attention to what is physically and emotionally draining you. “If a physician can spend 20 percent of the week—one of five work days—doing something that is most meaningful, it can help increase their sense of professional satisfaction and lower their risk of burnout” said Dr. Dyrbye, professor of medicine. By continuously focusing on your mental health, you have a better chance of being resilient in the face of sources of stress and provide quality care to your patients.