When most people go to the doctor, they have their own ailments on their mind and don’t necessarily think about how their physician is doing. However, doctors also have stress and are human too. A study published in Medscape found that burnout among physicians increased from 40% in 2013 to 51% in 2017. It is increasingly accepted that a healthcare system burning out physicians is bad for our doctors as well as the patients they treat. In this article, we’re going to outline a few reasons why physician burnout is becoming an epidemic, and what individuals in the system can do about it.
Symptoms of Burnout
There are many signs that might indicate burnout, such as:
- situational sadness
- decreased sleep
- increased stress and anger
- decreased job satisfaction
- decrease in connection with patients
- avoiding friends and family
Even though symptoms are pervasive among doctors, they are well trained in managing and hiding the symptoms. The culture of “hiding the pain” among physicians can make things worse and even very difficult to diagnose. To make it even more complex, burnout is not equal to poor performance. The intense training has some benefits. Many doctors are not aware of the signs or symptoms, or that there are more effective ways to manage the challenges of being a doctor. They don’t seek help, and there is not much offered to help. These negatives are a sort of catch 22.
Equipping Doctors with the Tools They Need
Historically, burnout has not been a prominent topic in medical school. As a result, many physicians find themselves unequipped to properly deal with burnout when it arises. We need to start talking openly about these issues and developing programs that can equip doctors with the tools they need to fight burnout. This will include integration of resilience skills into medical school curricula, as well as on-the-job programs available to physicians to focus on their own wellness.
Here are just a few simple tools or actions we have identified as helpful, including:
Improved Sleep Hygiene - Bring increased awareness to your sleep hygiene. We learned from sleep expert, Dominic Munafo, MD, many ways to improve our sleep. And more importantly, as physicians, we learned ways to increase our alertness without impacting our ability when we do have a chance to recover. Learn more on the SurgeonMasters Podcast, Sleep Hygiene 1! and Sleep Hygiene 2!
Engaging Your Passion - Find a way to connect with your passion. Whether you are a young doctor starting your practice or a veteran hardened by years of battle scars, it is critical to tap into our inner motivations and drive. A great example of a surgeon engaging their passion for patient care is Kristin Long, MD, who frequently travels abroad on medical mission trips to perform medical procedures. While the work is difficult and long, the purpose in the work brings fulfilment instead of exhaustion that mundane tasks like EHR bring. Learn more about Kristin Long’s humanitarian trips by clicking here.
Connecting with Others - Connecting with peers who are facing or have faced similar circumstances can be incredibly helpful. The everyday stressors of being a physician are much different from the stressors of other careers. That’s why it’s important to connect with other like-minded physicians who are experiencing the same things you are. Talk about the stresses (as well as the joys) of life as a surgeon, and support each other through mutual understanding.
Working Towards Solutions
If you are a surgeon experiencing the signs and symptoms of burnout, it’s important that you take proactive steps for your own well-being. SurgeonMasters offers educational tips, webinars, podcasts, as well as live-meetups – all with the express goal of educating surgeons on burnout and wellness. We are a group of like-minded surgeons who share knowledge in the hopes of building thriving, lifestyle-friendly practices. Reach out to us today to learn more!
Resources: Medscape Lifestyle Report 2017