Avoiding Physician Burnout
While any profession has the risk of becoming boring, tedious, or emotionally-draining, physicians are at a higher risk for these concerns than some other professions. After years in patient care, the work can become tiresome, and the changes in the healthcare system can have an impact on your stress levels or emotional wellbeing over time. This can result with a dissatisfaction with the medical field and the desire to leave it altogether, but what about when you have student debt to repay and other financial responsibilities? Burnout is a common problem for physicians, but fortunately, there are some ways to avoid burnout and revive your passion for your field.
Contributors to Physician Burnout
Here are some serious contributors to burnout:
- Tolerance for stress: Stress is common in the medical profession, but it’s also a significant contributor to burnout. If you notice that the stress is no longer tolerable, or on the other extreme, no longer affecting you at all, you’re likely experiencing the early indicators of burnout.
- Workplace chaos: If your practice or workplace is always chaotic, there’s a good chance you and your colleagues will succumb to burnout. Patient care can be frustrating, but the high-stress environment of a chaotic workplace has a much stronger impact on burnout.
- Lack of value: Employees in any field need to feel valued to stay motivated, and physicians are no different. Whether you work for a large hospital or you run your own private practice, you need to know that you’re working with people who share your passion for medicine to stay engaged.
- No work/life balance: Spending time with friends and family is extremely important for keeping your stress at bay and maintaining your balance between your professional life and personal life. If you’re missing out on valuable family or social time because of your work, you’re at a higher risk for experiencing burnout.
- No free time: It’s no surprise that physicians work longer hours than some other professions, but it’s still vital to have free time away from work to stay emotionally healthy. Day after day of long hours and no true break from your work stress is a strong predictor of burnout.
- Poor self-care: If you notice you’re neglecting your own physical or emotional wellbeing because of your work schedule or stress, that attitude and lack of motivation will spill over into your professional life and impact your patients.
Signs of Physician Burnout
Now that you know the contributing factors to burnout, let’s take a look at some of the common signs and symptoms:
- You feel physically or emotionally drained and suffer from sleep disturbances or poor-quality sleep.
- You’re moody, cranky, or quick to argue.
- Your patience is shorter than usual.
- You feel trapped in your position and can’t identify any plans for the future.
- You begin to show less interest attentiveness to your patients.
- You can’t stop bringing your work home and don’t think about anything else.
If you begin to experience these symptoms, here are some ways to avoid burnout and help you rekindle your passion and interest in medicine:
Physical exercise and staying active are known for boosting endorphins and helping to alleviate stress. Whether you choose to take up yoga or hit the weights, exercising regularly can help you improve your emotional and physical health, as well as giving you the tools you need to avoid burnout.
In addition to physical exercise, you can also consider massage therapy, acupuncture, meditation, or other whole-body wellness alternatives to help you manage your stress and stay happy.
Make Time for Family and Friends
A huge aspect of self-care is maintaining your emotional connections with your loved ones. Physicians tend to avoid social situations and withdraw from people when they experience burnout, so be sure to prioritize your quality time with friends and family to avoid isolation and keep your support system intact.
Know What You Can and Cannot Change
There’s a lot to be frustrated about in the healthcare system, but not all of it is within your control. Take some time to identify the aspects of your work you can improve and change, and the aspects you can’t. Devote your time and energy into what you can improve and try to avoid wasting energy and time on what you can’t. Doing so will help you stay satisfied and reduce frustration and stress.
Identify Your Low Points
Over time, everyone experiences emotional highs and lows related to work, but that’s different than a consistent, long-term feeling of burnout. Learn to identify fatigue and a loss of energy, motivation, and focus, so you can take the necessary time away to regroup and recharge.
These feelings can be difficult to identify, but with some quiet reflection and an objective evaluation of your own emotional state, you can learn to identify these periods and commit to a short break that focuses on restorative activities and quality time with loved ones.
Take an Extended Vacation
When you begin to notice periods of burnout, the best thing you can do is take some time off. Not a short few days, but an extended vacation that gives you adequate time to refuel and come back refreshed and motivated.
This time can be spent traveling, learning a new skill, spending time with out-of-town family or friends, volunteering at a clinic, or anything else that gives you a mental and physical break from your daily routine.
Many physicians avoid counseling or coaching on principle, but for physicians experiencing burnout, seeking the help of a coach or counselor with experience treating physicians can be incredibly beneficial. These professionals can help you find ways to cope with burnout and alternative options to help you stay motivated in your practice.
Find Alternatives Within Your Specialty
Depending on your specialty, you can find new avenues to pursue within your knowledge base that can reinvigorate your interest and engagement. This can range from changing your clinical focus to switching to administrative or financial work within the specialty.
Explore “Side Hustle” Opportunities
Between medical school and running a successful practice, physicians attain a wealth of knowledge, skills, and practical experience that are suited to other non-clinical professions. Taking on a “side hustle” can help you achieve some variety in your work life, earn some extra money, and keep you engaged with your work.
There are limitless opportunities for physician side hustles, and you may even find that you want to transition out of medicine and make your side hustle a new career.
Physician burnout is a serious and damaging problem in the medical field. It not only negatively impacts patient care, but it also raises the costs of healthcare with constant staff turnover and training, not to mention the impact on individual physicians who’ve invested time and money into their career. If you’re struggling with burnout or are at high risk for experiencing it, be sure to take time for yourself and focus on these suggestions to get back on track. You’re no good to anyone if you don’t care for yourself first.