Doctor Burnout

Doctor Burnout: How to Spot It and Fix It


Doctors know how vital it is to educate patients about the importance of taking care of themselves and managing their health, but studies show doctors may not be taking their own advice. Almost half of doctors in the U.S. (46 percent) reported feeling worn down or burned out, according to the 2015 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report. This is an increase from the previous year’s report, in which less than 40 percent of responding doctors described themselves as burned out.

The study defines burnout as experiencing a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. The burnout rates are highest among critical care and emergency department physicians (53 and 52 percent, respectively), but even specialties such as ophthalmology and pediatrics ranked above 40 percent. Women reported higher burnout rates than men (51 and 43 percent, respectively).

It’s important to realize that burnout is not just a problem for individual overworked doctors — burnout has serious, farther-reaching effects. These doctors (and other health care workers who are burned out) are at higher risk for substance abuse and suicide, more likely to make errors and questionable ethical choices, and may lose their sense of empathy for others, according to this post on The New York Times’ Well blog. They are also more likely to leave medicine.

So how do you know if you’re at risk for burnout? The signs aren’t always as obvious as you might think. For instance, a high tolerance for stress — which some doctors might see as a positive trait — is actually a red flag, according to Mark Linzer, MD, who has studied doctor burnout since 1996. In fact, stress is the No. 1 predictor for burnout among doctors.

The top three causes of doctor burnout reported in the Medscape study were:

  • Too many bureaucratic tasks
  • Spending too many hours at work
  • Income not high enough

While you may not have the power to influence some of these factors (income levels are generally out of your direct control, and bureaucratic tasks are often required by regulatory agencies), you can commit to taking better care of yourself.

If you work for a hospital that offers an employee wellness program, take advantage of it. If you have your own practice, consider starting something — even on a small scale — for you and your employees. Participation in these programs has been proven to reduce absences from work and cut costs for employers.

“Burnout doesn’t have to be highly expensive to fix,” Linzer told AMA Wire. “People always want to say that physician wellness and performance measures will cost a lot of money, but preventing burnout can actually save money in the long run on recruiting and training new practice staff.”

And many burnout-reducing measures are free. Simply taking a lunch break or going for a walk outside between patients is a step in the right direction. Exercise, staying hydrated, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep — all the recommendations doctors give their patients are equally important for themselves. Some studies have shown that mindfulness meditation, which can help doctors become fully present and attentive in the moment, can reduce stress and burnout.

Since poor work-life balance and lack of control over free time are other indicators of burnout, according to Linzer, its important to recognize and remedy that. Spending time with family and loved ones helps doctors perform better, and doesn’t cost a thing.

Taking a look at how your practice operates and streamlining it where possible can save you time, money — and stress. Contact us today to start the conversation about how the right technology can transform the way you practice medicine.

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