I was just casually talking to a physician friend of mine around Christmas Eve last year when he remarked, “Maybe I should come in to see you sometime. I am really stressed out, especially at this time of year.” What he said has haunted me for some days thereafter, and I got to thinking about Jesus’ famous admonition to Luke in the Bible, “Physician, heal thyself.”
Physician burnout is a very common phenomenon in the healthcare profession. There are studies that show that compared to the general U.S. population, physicians are more likely to have symptoms of burnout and are more dissatisfied with work-life balance issues.1
Although we do not talk often about this issue because it is not “sexy” enough, physicians are human beings too. They deal with the same human crises and challenges. One of the major challenges is keeping sane in a world that is largely driven by sickness and disease and where physicians are constantly asked to be supermen and superwomen fighting the wrath of these twin monsters.
Feeling Burnout Pangs?
I have encountered periods of fatigue and burnout too, especially after long, challenging days of multiple patient suicide attempts, crises interventions and needing to send someone to the hospital when they become too agitated and violent for the nursing staff to handle.
Those days can be painful reminders of the constant burden that we carry on our backs always as healthcare professionals, patient safety first and foremost.
I would advise any physician that has felt the pangs of burnout – and I suspect there will be a large audience to fill a stadium if I asked for a show of hands- to do the following:
- Accept that you are no superman or superwoman. You are human and like all humans, you are prone to making mistakes.
- You do not have to be the “savior” for all your patients. You should obviously try to do your best at every step, but realize that you are not solely responsible for every life and death situation that every patient of yours goes through in the course of their recovery and rehabilitation.
- Take time out for yourself. Give yourself plenty of opportunities to enjoy multiple fun activities with family, friends and colleagues. Schedule time if you must, but do it for your sake and that of your patients and loved ones.
- Talk to a competent professional if you feel that you cannot manage your stress on your own. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help from a physician colleague who specializes in stress management, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
- Learn to say “no.” Take on tasks that you know you can handle and refuse the extra ones, even though there might be an inclination in you to do it all.
I hope the rest of the year goes well for you.
I will tell you exactly what I told my friend on Christmas Eve last year:
“In this challenging, yet exciting endeavor of patient care, do everything that you can to minimize the risk of stress and burnout in your daily lives. And yes, I am always open to hearing from you about your life and struggles. I am only a phone call away.”
1 Shanafelt, T. D., Boone, S., Tan, L., Dyrbye, L. N., Sotile, W., Satele, D., & Oreskovich, M. R. (2012). Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance Among US Physicians Relative to the General US Population Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance. Archives of internal medicine, 172(18), 1377-1385.
Tired doctor photo available from Shutterstock