The life of a physician is a study in contradictions. On the one hand, doctors are trained to be selfless, to put the needs and well-being of patients before their own. While this makes for great doctor-patient relationships, it serves as contradictory to good self-care.
Add to this the increasing workload, long hours of work, mounting paperwork and administrative documents and on-call schedules and expectations and the result is a recipe for physician burnout. One study found that nearly half of doctors display at least one sign of burnout.
And it’s not only doctors who are affected by burnout. Nurses and other health care staff suffer burnout as well.
The traditional approach to overcoming problems and getting through nightmare schedules and overwhelming responsibilities is to simply work harder. But this never is an ideal solution and actually serves to cement an already unhealthy pattern of behavior.
What then, can physicians and other health care workers do to avoid burnout? Here are some simple steps that may provide a healthier solution.
On a Professional Level
There are many things physicians can do to rebalance their lives and help reduce or eliminate on-the-job stress that contributes to burnout. While these may seem simple, they are not simplistic. They are also relatively easy to put into motion, given sufficient motivation to do so.
- Analyze and restructure. Take a look at your current practice or work situation. What’s needed to restructure your work life so that you feel more empowered and ready for success? This is an area to spend some time on, but it will pay off with a clearer focus on what is important – and what isn’t.
- Find meaning and set limits. Naturally, there is a lot of repetition and constant follow-up in your medical practice. This can lead to an escalation of both time and effort that can result in diminished motivation. The solution here is to find meaning in what you do and to put firm limits in place so that you don’t constantly exceed your threshold of endurance.
- Spend time with a mentor. Identify someone who can serve as your mentor, not only in the early days of your practice, but also throughout your medical career. This will be someone you can talk over difficulties with, share strategies and solutions, emulate and find inspiration from.
- Develop better administrative support systems. Physicians can’t do everything themselves, no matter how determined and perfectionist they may be. The key to avoiding burnout, or to work on reducing and eliminating it, is to develop better administrative support systems. Recognize that this may take some time to do, so concentrate on making changes that result in at least adequate support first, and go from there to improving the support you receive – and give in return.
On a Personal Level
Doctors have a personal life as well as a professional one, although the personal often takes the brunt of the beating from physician burnout. In other words, the physician’s personal life is the first to suffer and the last to recover. Try these basic steps to help banish overwhelming stress and burnout from your life.
- Determine personal goals. What got lost in the concentration on work-related goals and duties is likely any attention to personal goals. Now is the time to sit down and figure out what it is that brings you joy in life, both at home and at work. Make a list and then find ways to incorporate more of these activities into your daily routine. Even better, strive for variety. Instead of doing the same thing every day, mix it up a bit. This gives you something enjoyable to look forward to.
- Balance personal life. When work dominates your life, it’s important to carve time out of your schedule that has nothing to do with the job. Take time off. Go on a weekend trip or a vacation with the family or friends.
- Spend time with loved ones and family. When you are home, or outside work, make it a point to spend meaningful time with your loved ones and family members. This can go a long way toward enriching your life and restoring a sense of balance.
- Pay attention to spirituality. Another equally important aspect of a well-balanced life is personal spirituality. Whether you belong to an organized religion or just believe in the power of the human spirit, take the time to engage in retrospection, meditation, prayer and other forms of getting in touch with your spiritual side.
- Take care of your physical health. In order to be able to ward off burnout, good physical health is required. Be sure to get sufficient sleep, exercise regularly, and eat well-balanced, nutritious meals.
Perhaps the most important way to avoid physician burnout is prevention. But no one starts out thinking they’ll be burned out – until they are. The beauty of these simple steps is that they can work just as well in prevention as they can for a cure.