Top 5 Ways to Avoid Physician Burnout

February 6th, 2013 4 Min read Top 5 Ways to Avoid Physician Burnout Blog
The rewards of being a physician are clear, but to many practicing physicians, the less visible stresses of the job can lead to burnout. Dealing with insurance companies, tackling ever-higher mountains of paperwork and working longer hours contribute to increasing disenchantment with the profession. An aging population and an increasing number of older physicians choosing to retire only adds to the strain placed on those who remain. In a field that requires attention to detail, compassion and mental acuity, burnout is a problem for patients as well as physicians who suffer it. If you find yourself feeling less fulfilled and more cynical with every passing day, you may be noticing the first signs of burnout. Fighting it before it consumes your passion for practicing medicine is vital for you and those around you. The first step in combating burnout is recognizing it. Many of its symptoms mimic depression, but unlike the feelings of anger, inadequacy or emptiness that pervade every aspect of life with clinical depression, burnout relates solely to the workplace. Dreading an approaching work day, feeling as though you aren't making a difference and finding yourself exhausted long before your day is over are common signs of burnout. Left unchecked, it can drain your enthusiasm completely and rob you of the career for which you worked for years.
  1. Focus on a better work/life balance. Physicians work an average of 11 hours more than other professionals every week. Over time, those additional hours take their toll, yet many physicians feel they must work long hours to accommodate patients and other medical personnel. If you don't take time for yourself, though, you have nothing extra to give; it is unsustainable in the long term. Finding ways to reduce your hours can stave off future burnout and lessen its severity if you're already feeling its effects.For some physicians, that means expanding a private practice to work with others, pooling your resources so none of you feel you must live at the office. You may also consider a lateral move to a less active clinic or medical center in your area.
  2. Maintain your health. Without sufficient sleep, proper nutrition and enjoyable exercise, you quickly burn through your reserves and have little energy left to devote to everything else in your life. When work consumes your limited supply of physical and emotional energy, you naturally begin to dread it. Years of grueling hours in school and internships teach physicians to sacrifice their well-being for their goals; all too often, they try to maintain the same self-sacrificing course even after becoming established in their careers."Physician, heal thyself" has a literal and practical meaning for those at risk of burnout. Make time for that yoga class you've been meaning to try or rediscover your love of tennis. Treat yourself to healthful meals instead of grabbing something quick and flavorless on the way from work to your bed.
  3. Build your support system. At work, you have a wealth of untapped resources to help you cope with stress. Your peers are also at risk for burnout, and just discussing that stress during an occasional informal lunch or get-together after your shift can work wonders at relieving it. However, it's important to inject some positivity and humor into these decompression sessions; if they become everyone's opportunity to focus on the worst elements of the workplace, they can contribute to stress.Your friends and family are also an important part of your support system and can help you put your work into better perspective. You may feel tired and enervated after work, but make time to see friends and socialize, particularly if your work involves seeing seriously and critically ill patients. Taking pleasure in social activities is key to making work feel more fulfilling.
  4. Delegate some of your responsibilities. Many of the things physicians consider most onerous are jobs that someone else can do. You didn't go to school to wrangle with insurance companies and government agencies; you wanted to help patients. It's well worth the investment to hire someone who can handle the paperwork and other office administration duties for you. You may find that freeing yourself to focus on the parts of your job that are most meaningful to you restores your enthusiasm for it.
  5. Rediscover your fulfillment. You have two options for fighting burnout: reducing stress and increasing fulfillment. While previous steps addressed stress reduction, sometimes the best solution is some soul-searching to find what truly fulfills you. What is it that still sparks your interest, however briefly, and how can you find ways to nurture that spark? Are you working with the patients you most want to help? If medicine is a calling, take the time to listen and understand what you're truly called to do.
If burnout is a real issue that you can't overcome, it might be time to start looking at other places for employment. Take a look at some of the physician career opportunities on our job board and talk to a CompHealth consultant today!