Physician Burnout & How Your Stress is Affecting You
Physician Burnout & How Your Stress is Affecting You
January 3, 2020 by Kenechi Chiemelu

Stress? What’s New?

Physicians are familiar with the renowned term, burnout. It’s subtly flaunted as a badge of honor or a personal testament to the daily ‘grind’. But those sleepless nights, baggy eyes, and cups of instant coffee are implying more about your mental state than your physical state. Burnout can affect one’s quality of patient care, increase the likelihood of medical errors, and adversely affect one’s ability to react to a physical or mental emergency.

In the eyes of a physician, stress is a casual companion; in the eyes of an ill patient, sickness is their companion. Personally, I see the relationship between physician and patient as relying on the removal of one unwanted presence from the other. Essentially, the physician removes sickness and the successful healing of the patient removes stress. Two sides of this proverbial coin have one interest in mind: your health.

How Is It Affecting You?

Unfortunately, burnout prevents the physician from fully applying their capabilities. After all, it’s not uncommon for fatigue or dissatisfaction to negatively impact one’s work performance. But the implication isn’t that physicians’ are suddenly unfit to do their job…  that statement couldn’t be any further from the truth. The truth is that physicians care about their jobs so much that they’re doing it, even under the worst of circumstances… even when it costs them their mental and physical health. According to a 2018 Harvard University report, physician burnout is a “public health crisis that urgently demands action by health care institutions, governing bodies, and regulatory authorities.” 

During the holidays, physicians face compounded stress because of the increase in visitors, and consequentially, an increase in working hours. The holiday ‘rise in demand’ conflicts with the little time they’re regularly afforded to spend with their loved ones. As this article has described, many physicians report an “influx of patient visits and heightened stress” due to these seasonal changes. The flu season entering its peak around November/December suggests eager patients will schedule their last-minute appointments before the year ends. 

Oh Boy, What Do We Do?

Despite the number of topics on physician burnout, there isn’t enough activity for resolving the problem. The “National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019”, a survey of 15,000 physicians from 29 specialties, conducted by Medscape Medical News, published that this year had an overall physician burnout of 44%. Within that notice, 11% asserted that they were colloquially depressed and 4% were clinically depressed. 40% of those depressed physicians explained that they express their frustration in front of staff and peers, while more than two-thirds say their depression affects their workplace behavior. 14% stated that they make mistakes they wouldn’t ordinarily make and out of the entire list of those depressed or burned out, 64% do not plan on seeking professional guidance.

Preventative Measures!

To counteract burnout, an extreme state of duress, one acknowledges that their coping methods will not be effective, long term, without the recognition that there burning out is a problem. Listed below are a few strategies to help you accept that fact.

  • Accept your limitations: Every doctor picked their profession because he/she believed in the power of healing. Some doctors internalize the burden of trying to save everyone, and this can affect their perception of themselves. Knowing that you cannot do everything or save everyone is important because it’ll help you see where you can make a difference.
  • Collaboration: Talk to your peers and colleagues! It’s not complaining or ‘self-deprecative’ when they know exactly what you’re going through. And chances are, they’re probably going through it too. Dike Drummond, CEO of The HappyMD, suggests to “rebuild the social ties and human connections between doctors… we are much healthier when we have person-to-person connections with our colleagues.”
  • Patient Management: Studies show bureaucratic practices were one of the highest stress-inducing responsibilities for a physician. The amount of information needed to be submitted electronically can take away the time you might wish to spend on patient care. Therefore, if you have a website, try to see if your patients can download and fill out forms before their appointments. 
  • Work fewer hours: Stress is a typical factor of the job but working over 40 hours can significantly increase its effect. It is far more likely for physicians working over 60 hours a week to report feeling burned out.
  • Don’t perpetuate the problem: The medical community, while acknowledging the difficulty of burnout, has yet to take a more active approach in combatting its continuation. Wible, a family practitioner from Eugene, Ore., points to medical schools, which she sees as perpetuating a culture where “powering through consecutive work shifts means you’ve arrived.” For physicians mentoring medical students or colleagues, be open about the reality of stress in the medical field. It isn’t something to shirk off as ‘just another day’ when it is impacting your mental and physical health.

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