5 Tips For Beating Physician Burnout

Some call it physician burnout. Others focus on prevention, citing physician resilience as an important preventive quality.

Some reject those terms in favor of more accurate depictions. Dr. Zubin Damania, a.k.a. ZDogg MD recently produced a video describing the epidemic as the result of moral injury.

However you want to frame the issue, it’s a real problem. Disillusioned physicians become overwhelmed, disempowered, and disengaged. I’ve suggested monetary solutions — there are situations that can be helped by both saving and spending money.

I believe fundamental, system-wide changes need to take place that give physicians the autonomy and respect they deserve. However, there are some things that the individual can do in the meantime.

Today’s guest post from Scott Cook looks at a few of those options. His provided bio:

I’m a freelance writer that takes on all sorts of jobs – big and small. I’ve covered everything from healthcare to business leadership and am always looking to educate myself on more subjects. I have a soft spot for entrepreneurship since I’m always dabbling in small business ventures.

I’ve got no business relationship with Mr. Cook. Let’s see what he’s got to say about physician burnout.

 

5 Tips For Beating Physician Burnout

 

Burnout is so common in physicians that they should start including it in the job description. According to a lifestyle report conducted by Medscape in 2015, 46% of physicians admit to facing burnout before it’s time to retire. The ages that report the most cases of burnout are between the years of 36 and 55, with more than half of those cases being females.

However, it’s safe to say that the majority of individuals in the medical field experience some level of burnout multiple times throughout the course of their career, regardless of gender and age—and how could you not?

A great portion of healthcare jobs are among the most stressful positions one can have, particularly those that specialize in critical care, family medicine, general surgery, EM, and internal medicine—all of which are the top specialties for physician burnout. With overwhelming stacks of paperwork, back-to-back patients, upsetting cases, and demanding work conditions, it’s no wonder physicians face this problem so frequently.

In this article, we’ll give you a closer look at the causes and effects of physician burnout and provide you with five proven tips you can use to prevent it from hindering your work and putting a damper on your personal life.

 

What Causes Physician Burnout?

 

In the Medscape Lifestyle Report, physicians were asked to provide information about what they believed to be the main source of burnout. 56% of participants claimed that the sheer volume of bureaucratic tasks such as charting and filling out paperwork was to blame for their slumps. Unsurprisingly, this part of the job has been the top complaint among healthcare professionals for quite some time now.

Industry experts are continuously making efforts to minimize bureaucratic work with digitized automation and other electronic solutions aimed at making these processes easier, faster, and more convenient; however, ironically enough, 24% of physicians say the increasing computerization is their main cause of burnout.

The second most-voted cause of burnout, at 39%, is spending too many hours at work. A close third is described as a lack of respect from colleagues, staff, and employers. Other popular causes include insufficient compensation, disrespectful patients, government regulations, decreasing reimbursements, and certification requirements.

Needless to say, there are more than enough justifiable reasons for individuals in the medical field to suffer burnout. Unfortunately, these pressing matters can’t easily be avoided, resulting in more than just a lapse in drive and vigor. Of all the physicians that were surveyed, nearly 15% claimed to suffer from depression in addition to burnout.

Effects of Physician Burnout

 

Even minor cases of burnout can take a toll on the physical, mental, and emotional well-being on the physician, but the effects don’t stop there; burnout also has a noticeably negative impact on personal and workplace relationships.

In the same Medscape study, 42% of participants said burnout causes them to become easily agitated by their colleagues and staff, and they are far less engaged with friends and family.

Not only can burnout harm personal and workplace relationships, but it can also negatively affect patient relationships and the quality of care provided.

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Are You Burning Out?

 

With such a hectic work schedule and the weight of the world on your mind, it’s easy for burnout to creep in and take hold before you even notice it. Ask yourself this list of questions to detect burnout in the early stages before it becomes debilitating.

 

  1. Are your muscles and joints aching more than usual? Do your eyes hurt when you wake up in the morning? Do you have a throbbing headache? These signs of physical fatigue are indicative of an overworked body.
  2. Do your thoughts seem sluggish? Are you having great difficulty focusing on remedial tasks? If so, your mind needs a break.
  3. Do daily responsibilities and common problems seem too big to face? Have routine tasks become overwhelming? You may be emotionally drained.
  4. Are you experiencing an increase in negative thoughts? Are you feeling discouraged and hopeless? Do you suddenly feel that your career has come to a halt?
  5. Has your job performance faltered? Do you feel a lack of interest in your duties or a lack of connection with your colleagues?

5 Tips for Beating Burnout

 

Beat burnout and prevent its return with these five proven ways to clear your head and stay alert, invested, and happy to go to work.

 

1) Exercise at Least 3 Times a Week

 

As a healthcare practitioner, you know how important it is for the body to stay active, but this is also a great way to deter burnout.

By making exercise a part of your weekly routine, you can work out frustrations and release feel-good hormones in the brain, improve your physical health and endurance, and give yourself some much-needed time to clear your head and accomplish personal goals. For the most effective and consistent results, exercise at least three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes.

 

mud run

pof preventing burnout

 

2) Make Sleep a Priority

 

Without a sufficient amount of sleep every night, your brain doesn’t have the time it needs to process information and mentally prepare for the next day. In order to avoid physician burnout, you must make sleep a priority and get at least seven to eight hours of quality shut-eye every single night.

Getting to bed at a decent time every night may require some tough changes in your schedule, but it will be worth it when you’re facing each day with a refreshing sense of clarity and confidence.

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3) Call a Loved One

 

Among the physicians Medscape surveyed in their Lifestyle Report, an alarming 36% said they coped with burnout by isolating themselves from others. According to Stephen Ilardi, PhD, author and associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, isolation is a depression trap that only worsens the condition.

Make a note in your calendar to call a loved one or meet with a friend for coffee every few days. In doing so, you’ll be able to vent about the stress at work and converse with someone who understands (on some level) what you’re going through. This will help you redirect your focus to other things besides work and will keep you from slipping into an antisocial depression trap.

 

4) Work Locum Tenens

 

You may have heard of locum tenens by this point in your career and you should know that it’s a great way to avoid burnout. By working locum tenens, you take on temporary healthcare assignments that are far less burdensome than devoting 60+ hours a week to a demanding, stressful, full-time healthcare position. Some physicians use locum tenens positions to travel, others use short assignments for additional income.

Learn more about locum tenens and take this alternative career path into consideration when physician burnout becomes too heavy to handle.

 

 

5) Pursue a New or Forgotten Hobby

 

One great way to take your mind off work, relax after a long day, and boost your levels of confidence and courage is to pursue a hobby.

Whether you choose to pursue a brand new activity you’ve always wanted to try, or you pick up an old hobby you convinced yourself you didn’t have time for, you’re sure to find a well-deserved break from the weight of your career. Dedicate time to your hobby at least once a week and feel free to switch to something new if you’re not enjoying yourself.

Don’t let physician burnout get the best of you. Learn how to detect it and prevent it so you can continue advancing your career and improving your life.

 

 

What are your top tips for preventing physician burnout? I’m sure we can add quite a bit to this list. 

 

16 comments

  • Doctors are told to be Superheroes. We aren’t supposed to have those human defects like lesser humans. Lunch break, what? 8 hours sleep? No way. Exercise, I have more important things to do, etc.

    Next thing they know a decade went by. They gained weight, feel sluggish, and burned out.

    We need to resist the cultural programming and be kind to ourselves.

    Also, as I have learned from the sports psychology world, it is linear & continuous stress that can do damage. If there are breaks and cycles of stress and recovery. If we are conditioned to increase our capacity to resist stress like through exercise then we can handle more.

    Stress can be eustress which helps us grow, not just distress that breaks us down.

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  • Burnout is really becoming an epidemic in the medical profession.

    Doctors are the worst patients and often let it go too far before they even try to address any issues, and that includes burnout.

    Even the “lifestyle ROAD (Radiology, Opthalmology, Anesthesiology, & Dermatology) specialties are not immune. I am in radiology and I definitely have felt the grips of burnout multiple times in my career.

    Decreasing reimbursements across the board force physicians to compensate by cramming in seeing more patients or reading more studies (in my case). Insurance loopholes create headaches (for example a patient cannot have a thyroid ultrasound and a carotid ultrasound in the same day because even though they are completely different, insurance companies think it is the same thing because we are scanning in the neck).

    Achieving FI helps because it allows me to pay someone to cover me 1 day a week so I reduce my clinical time. It is helpful to prevent burnout.

  • Agree with Wealthy Doc above.

    The expectation placed by the system (and our own self-expectation) is that we are to be strong and resilient. Asking for help is weak.

    Unfortunately, this is a systematic problem and individualized solutions that do not either fix the system or provide freedom to escape it are just band-aids. They may help for a bit, but the long term sustained pressures caused by the system eventually make many doctors crack.

  • VagabondMD

    Agree with my physician colleagues above. As someone who suffered from burnout and has emerged from it successfully, I find the authors suggestions to be largely in the category of victim shaming (with the exception of number 4). “You are not strong and resilient enough. Make yourself better, so the medical industrial complex won’t grind you down as much.” Baloney!

    While reducing the risk and affects of burnout requires some personal change, it also requires some change in your relationship with your career (and maybe a different job description or job). Whatever that can increase your control of your professional life, improve the culture and sense of community at work, align your values with the of the organization, improve your reward (monetary and psychic), establish fairness, and especially reduce work overload will combat burnout.

    Picking up stamp collecting and tennis just ain’t gonna get it done. Sorry.

    • The Unburnt

      I agree. If the burnout is because of a toxic work situation I do not care how much sleep you get or if Hot Yoga is provided on lunch breaks. You need to fix the issues. Admin is looking for easy cheep solutions to fix burnout.

      I am curious to see if this post catches as much flack as the last. I would rather side hustle then stamp collect.

    • Yes! I’m not sure I like the term “moral injury”, but it’s better than “burnout”. Fundamentally, this is not a problem of mental fortitude, emotional enlightenment, or even that elusive Holy Grail – “balance”. I appreciate the author’s efforts to help, but . . .

      Speaking as someone who quit after thirteen years (FI), now traveling with my family for the last nine months, reflecting on all this stuff . . . I used all the author’s strategies and more to no avail. For me, it has actually helped to realize the problem lies on the other side of the equation: the system. Specifically, knowing what excellent care should look like, knowing that it is expected, and being unable to deliver on that promise.

      Interestingly, defining the issues accurately is allowing me to move forward. I’ve decided to return to practice (EM) very part time (1-2 days per week)when we return to see if that dose of clinical medicine is within the therapeutic index for me.

  • Nathan Joos

    I think the worst offender is simply hours logged. Have you ever stepped back to look at the number of hours you put in compared to the average worker? I’ve driven home several times after a 5am-3pm day thinking ‘wow, I’m getting a short day, this is great!’ Uh, that’s still 50hrs a week, it’s just better than 60-65…

    Cut your hours, and you’ll cut your stress and burnout!

  • DrTanstaafl

    I’m wondering how you prioritize sleep on call?

    • Call is definitely a causative factor in burnout. I’m down to one call weekend per month, which means I can get uninterrupted sleep 90% of the time. I took q3 call for years and it took its toll.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • G

    Scott Cook, freelance writer with a soft spot for entrepreneurship?

    Really?

    Next assignment: how to be a better left handed pogo stick jumper.

  • Leo

    Becoming a super-user of your EHR can make a big difference. Find another doctor who is doing really well with his charting and follow him/her and find out how you can improve your use of the EHR. In a busy practice I was coming in at 8 and leaving at 5 with all of my charts done (not bragging–in the days of paper charts I would bring a huge box of charts home with me every night). I learned how to document well, doing it at the time of the visit, and it payed huge time dividends for me.

    Agree with the importance of good sleep.

  • Top !

    “56% of participants claimed that the sheer volume of bureaucratic tasks such as charting and filling out paperwork was to blame”

    This is the No.1 killer, not only in medicine, but almost everywhere in todays jobworld.

    “39%, is spending too many hours at work. …. popular causes include….. government regulations…. and certification requirements.”
    Bureaucracy again.

    So roughly 80-90 % of the problems are caused by a system close to a former Sowjet Union Total Observation Controlled Zone with a 7 year ” Kolchose” plan.

    But this time it´s not Stalin, but the administration/accountants and the consulting conmpanies, not having any idea of the real business they were originally hired to help or improve.

    If we could get rid of these idots, half of the burnouts would be gone.

    Having enough financial flexibility, even if not completely FI, helps to get around many of the games they are playing, so that we are not forced directly to participate in their rat race. Colleagues with high debt levels and a big mortgages might have to.

    Even if we love our jobs in the first place, it can be nice to let them feel once in a while, that blackmailing is not going to work so easy, since we are are willing to
    ” take off and nuke the whole site form orbit, it´s the only way to be sure” – if it is needed in an extreme case.

    even if we might never do it 🙂

    Our grandparents lived through 2 worldwars, but didn´t experience this shit.

  • Resident

    Do you know what causes burnout? Being told that it’s my problem, why can’t I just fix myself? The thousand microaggressions that come from nurses and other staff for being a short minority female physician. The demanding patients. The documentation. Being scared to even seek treatment because it’s a sign of weakness, people will gossip, and oh you might have to report it to your licensing board. NPs/PAs who actively put down physicians. The whole environment just sucks right now. Highly doubt more exercise will change the systems issues.

  • I have worked on two separate EMR implementations with a focus on things like “charge capture”, “revenue cycle”, and the dreaded “charge master”. The comparison of the EMR to a glorified cash register is spot on and unfortunately a necessary evil considering where the insurance industry is. I am working on my delivery when discussing these topics and have been personally struggling with the bureaucracy my field has added to your profession. Thank you all for your work.

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