Serenity Now!: Handling Physician Burnout

Serenity Now!: Handling Physician Burnout

Handling Physician Burnout


To many, the doctor’s vocation is an admirable one, and in many ways enviable. Beyond the (perceived) high wage, physicians go to the office each day knowing that theirs is necessary work. Just as a craftsman points to a standing house as a source of pride and proof of a job well done, a doctor need only point their finger at a healthy, smiling patient whose condition they diagnosed and helped to treat.

But no doctor’s life is perfect. The weight of daily responsibilities, paired with long work hours in a profession in such a constant state of change, has caused many physicians to experience high levels of burnout. At such a critical juncture, many doctors find themselves questioning their commitment to their jobs. Some report such high levels of stress that they are considering walking away from medicine altogether. Let’s examine a few causes of this unwelcome phenomenon, and consider a few ways of handling them.

The work-life balance

“You need to do for you sometimes.” We’ve all been given this admonishment. It’s nothing new, though it sounds nice, and we certainly appreciate it. But over time, physicians may lose sight of just how important it is. You can hardly blame your family and friends for reminding you all the time. In a profession where your daily concerns are the best interests of other people—patients, and your fellow staff members—it is very easy to lose sight of your own. A big part of who you are is tied to what you do, but you are allowed to cultivate an identity outside of your livelihood. Give yourself the time and chance to take off the white coat and try on a few different ones. Many physicians who fail to do this fall prey to the same conditions they diagnose and treat on a daily basis: heart issues, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems.

You have a waiting room at your practice because waiting is inevitable. As are cancellations, staff callouts, and falling behind in general. One of the biggest challenges of running a private practice is keeping on top of the daily grind, which can be about as easy as a surfer trying to keep his balance atop a maverick on a particularly stormy afternoon. Many of these posts have dealt with economy of time and effort on a regular basis. But there will always be those “lost days”. On such days, remind yourself that the work isn’t going anywhere—it will be there for you tomorrow. Instead of pulling constant all-nighters to catch up, think in terms of the immediate. Assess what absolutely needs your attention right now, in the front end. After you’ve given your last patient of the day the time they deserve, go home. Burning your own oil at triple the normal intensity can only lead to intense mental and physical fatigue, which can cause the kind of sloppiness that ensures even more work, or personal injury.

Asserting control

…Which sometimes means giving up the idea of total control. This may seem difficult, especially since one of the most attractive aspects of private practice is the amount of control a physician has. But attempting to impose your will over every aspect of the workday can be incredibly draining, and, in the end, futile. A micromanaging boss isn’t just a worker’s pet-peeve. A constant refrain on this blog has been to learn intimately the strengths and weaknesses of your staff. The ability to successfully delegate tasks is a trait of a true leader. Furthermore, the willingness to allow the members of your team to actually do their jobs shows implicit trust in them, and will greatly reduce your own daily stress levels. If your will is a kind of smooth, efficient daily flow at your practice, you must first take control of yourself, and then allow that flow to develop.

Taking control means erecting your own personal boundaries, and having the courage to enforce them. For example, your time with your family is reserved for your family alone. One thing to remember: the “latitude and longitude” of these boundaries will change over time, and that is normal. So, maybe you move your dinner reservations to next Thursday evening. Making sure that the time is there is what’s most important, allowing yourself a nice “break” to look forward to. Adequate time for reflection, satisfaction, joy, and sleep will reinforce both a positive outlook and emotional fortitude, things you will need to draw on each day for your patients.

You aren’t an actor training for a role in an upcoming medical drama. This is your living, and you are in this for the long haul. It wouldn’t make sense for a distance runner to try and sprint the whole way. It isn’t about the finish-line to them, it’s about the miles, and the changes they see in themselves after each one. As a physician, you must alter your pace accordingly, and give yourself the oxygen you need to recuperate. Is that too cheesy of a metaphor? Well, how about this: nothing discussed above is revolutionary. Behind all of it is one simple phrase—it’s ok. It’s ok to fall behind. It’s ok to go home. It’s ok to let others worry about certain things.

Two words. Go ahead and try them out. Nothing happens until you do.


Brian Torchin

| HCRC Staffing | |

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