Do you dread going into work every day? When you think about your career, do you feel hopeless or stuck? Have your sleep habits changed? What about your eating habits?
Burnout is a problem for many physicians, so much so that leading healthcare organizations have declared physician burnout a public health crisis. What is burnout, and how can you avoid it?
What is burnout?
Burnout is defined as long-term, unresolvable job stress that significantly affects a person’s mental health. According to Medscape’s latest survey, nearly half of all physicians (44%) report feeling burned out with their career.
Symptoms of burnout include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling cynical and detached from your work
- Loss of motivation
- Change in sleep habits
- Unexplained ailments, e.g. headaches, stomach problems, sore muscles
In many ways, the symptoms of burnout resemble those of major depression. Unlike depression, however, burnout symptoms disappear once your work situation improves.
What causes burnout?
Burnout can result from multiple factors including lack of social support, work-life imbalance, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, and unclear job expectations.
Physicians specifically cite too many bureaucratic tasks (e.g. charting, paperwork), work-life imbalance, and increasing computerization of practice (EHRs) as the main reasons for their burnout.
What are the risks of physician burnout?
Multiple research studies have identified risks associated with physician burnout including:
- Lower patient satisfaction
- Lower quality of care
- Greater number of medical errors
- Higher physician and staff turnover
But physician burnout doesn’t only harm patients and staff – it’s also linked to greater rates of physician alcohol and drug abuse, addiction, and even suicide.
How do you prevent physician burnout?
Physician burnout can be tackled at two levels: the organizational level and the individual level. Organizational interventions are accomplished by the organization (or supervisors at the organization), whereas individual interventions can be practiced by the employees.
Organizational interventions include:
- Setting reasonable productivity goals
- Encouraging a healthy work-home balance
- Establishing concrete roles and assignments
- Supporting flexible work schedules
Individual interventions include:
- Prioritizing and delegating tasks
- Learning positive coping strategies
- Practicing mindfulness
- Maintaining self-care
When should I seek help?
Oftentimes, if you’re asking this question, it’s already time to seek help. Although depression and burnout are distinct conditions, they share many similarities and dangers, including an increased risk for suicide.
Your mental health is just as vital as your physical health, and neglecting either can harm both you and your patients.