Having a career that prioritizes the care of others can make it difficult to focus on your own well-being. This rings especially true in healthcare, when you, as the physician, are stretched thin and don’t take appropriate time to recharge from practicing medicine. This can also affect your practice’s profitability and, ultimately, your livelihood.
Medscape’s Physician Lifestyle Report shows an increase in physician burnout from 39.8% to 46% from 2013 to 2015. What are the causal factors for this and what can you do to avoid experiencing severe burnout?
Burnout is a mental decline in enthusiasm for work and other feelings that can lead to depression and depersonalization of oneself. This depersonalization can mean a severe dip in self-efficacy and accomplishment as a physician—naturally this has negative fallout where patients are concerned. How can you prevent this, despite the lowering reimbursement rates and the lessening of doctor-patient relationships?
Myth Busted: Physicians are People, Too
There is an unspoken rule that physicians must enact a brave face that reflects a confident and exacting mentality. Although this helps foster doctor-patient trust and is part of what makes physicians successful, it simultaneously perpetuates the idea that physicians are immune to self-reflection and acknowledging their own emotions.
Physicians have emotions, too, and they should be examined and brought to light, or else burnout can occur over time. This is what an American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) article describes as “a destructive ‘dark side,’” in which the traits that make physicians succeed also break them down over time.
Here are some tips on how to avoid burnout in your practice, as well as some figures that may help from the 2015 Physician Lifestyle Report:
The biggest causes of burnout according to Medscape’s report are too many bureaucratic tasks and excessive hours at work. These are known stressors, so if possible, take control of your hours and budget your time with family and the office. This will alleviate tension you may have and feel restricted by.
Find an outlet. You spend an inordinate amount of time providing a service of care and altruistic concern for patients. Oftentimes, this can create a proclivity for feelings of self-sacrifice and result in exhaustion. Don’t allow these feelings to fester into depriving yourself of your hobbies, or developing one. Go kayaking, join a book club, or learn a new language: see what other skills you can nurture to give yourself a break from medicine.
Don’t blame yourself. There is an expectation for constant perfection and omniscience with physicians where mistakes aren’t acceptable. The AAFP’s suggestion to combat burnout is to undergo “resiliency training” to build up the mind and cultivate insight for physicians. This includes asking appropriate questions and practicing techniques to understand and evaluate what happens at the office.
Women have a burnout rate of 51%, which is substantially more than males, which are only 43%. The Medscape report indicates women are more prone to suffer from “emotional exhaustion,” while in men burnout is associated with “depersonalization.”
No profession is easy; least of all being physicians, who are responsible for the well-being and lives of patients every single day. Don’t let burnout be a detriment to your practice’s success—organize yourself and gain control of yourself and your practice. You as the physician are the engine of the car, which is your practice; don’t undermine yourself by avoiding maintenance and oil changes.