Dealing with physician burnout – why is it so prevalent for so many practitioners in medicine in this new millennium?
Being a physician is a demanding job with serious responsibilities. Add to that the fact that patients are often chronically ill, sometimes treatment doesn’t work, and occasionally patients die — that is a heavy burden to bear in addition to a daily workload, rounds, running your practice. But what exactly is burnout, how prevalent is it, and why should the medical community be concerned?
Studies define burnout as “a syndrome consisting of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment, which is primarily driven by workplace stressors.” Recent research shows nearly half of practicing physicians in the U.S. experience burnout at some point, with those at the front line of care reporting the highest rates.
Leading drivers of burnout include excessive workload, imbalance between job demands and skills, a lack of job control, and prolonged work stress. Not all of the reasons for burnout are work-related. A physician may have significant issues regarding his or her own health or their personal life. Generally, the three symptoms of physician burnout are exhaustion, cynicism and doubt. Exhaustion isn’t just physical, but can be mental, emotional, even spiritual. Cynicism, or depersonalization, is sometimes dubbed “compassion fatigue.” And doubt, of course, is wondering why you bother.
Burnout in physicians has been linked with lower work satisfaction, disrupted personal relationships, substance misuse, depression, and suicide. Burnout can result in an increase in medical errors, reduced quality of patient care, and lower patient satisfaction. Burnout is responsible for reduced productivity, high job turnover, and early retirement.
Kevin MD reports that more than 51% of physicians attribute burnout to excessive administrative burdens and bureaucratic duties, among other things like long hours, a constantly shifting health care system, and dealing with a built-in level of failure.
A recent article in Medical Economics suggests that simple tweaks in day-to-day tasks, workflow shortcuts, and running your practice more efficiently can ease stress and create a more positive experience for both physicians and patients. There’s a bit more to it than that.
First, as a physician you have to admit that you have normal human needs, will occasionally display vulnerability, are not a machine, and have the right to say “NO” when workload becomes impossible. There should be no shame or stigma about needing help, never wait till you are overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed, before reaching out for assistance. Don’t blame yourself or let cultural norms, chaotic office conditions and a broken hospital system lead to your burnout!
Second, remember depression and burnout aren’t necessarily the same thing — but they often overlap. Take steps to avoid burnout and, if you feel yourself slipping over into depression, get help.
Third, the solution entails more than getting some sleep, meditating, exercising regularly, learning to say no, and better time management skills. The ultimate answer might be fixing the broken health care system. Studies show that burnout is a problem of the whole health care organization, rather than individuals. It requires structural changes and an organizational approach like changes in schedule and reductions in the intensity of workload, improved teamwork and leadership, communication skills training, changes in work evaluation, enhanced job control, and increasing the physician level of participation in decision making.
With all of that in mind, here are Fuoco’s five to thrive, self-healing strategies to stave off burnout:
1. Sometimes you just have to say “no.” It’s impossible to say yes to everything. Before answering, always ask yourself: Will it lead to more balance in my life or create unwanted imbalance? Will it take away from time with my family and friends? Will it enhance my career? What aspect of being a physician do you enjoy the most and feel you’re best at? Try to focus on that and say yes to more of what you enjoy doing.
2. Accept that you have limitations just like everyone else. Physicians can’t always help or save every patient. It’s impossible to predict or anticipate every possible medical outcome. Sometimes you won’t get to finish every item on your to-do list because you are juggling so many balls (or patients) at once. Develop coping techniques that work for you so you can accept it, and move on.
3. Develop a strong support system. Whether it’s a spouse, friend, colleague, or trusted business advisor, everybody needs someone who will listen. Work on building a team, and better communication and collaboration whether at the office, or in the hospital (even at home).
4. Slow it down. The business plan might call for spending 15 minutes with a patient and moving on, but don’t stress about being so efficient. Slowing down, and taking a few extra minutes out of your schedule when needed to listen, will benefit not only the patient, but you too.
5. Learn to be flexible. Adapting to change is tough and it seems the practice of medicine is changing dramatically every day. Balance is hard to achieve, and stress as well as busy schedules are part of any career. Maybe “survival of the fittest” means most able to adapt to change. Being open and receptive to new ideas and ways of doing things is a positive way to work and live.
Some helpful resources for our physician clients in New York and Florida include:
American Association Physician Wellness Program: https://www.ama-assn.org/physician-wellness-program
Florida Medical Association Resources: https://www.flmedical.org/florida/Florida_Public/Resources/Physician_Wellness/Physician_Wellness.aspx
Florida Resources for Physician Wellness from the Palm Beach County Medical Society: https://pbcms.memberclicks.net/physician-wellness-program
New York Resources from the Medical Society of the State of New York Committee for Physician Health:
As you work for the health of your patients, the professionals at Fuoco Group work for our physicians’ financial health. If you are worrying about cash flow, internal controls, staff and equipment issues, perhaps the prescription is customized accounting and financial services from a CPA firm well versed in physician medical practices. Our “New Financial Dialogue” includes a 360 degree business advisory program designed to take the burden off you and your physician partners because worrying about costs, reimbursement, margins, operations and finances shouldn’t be keeping you awake at night!
Contact us today – offices in New York, Long Island, and South Florida.