More than half of American doctors are burned out, according to a new national survey of nearly 6,700 clinic and hospital physicians. “Physician burnout is a reversible work-related syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion and/or cynicism, often featuring decreased effectiveness,” as defined by the study’s lead author.
And while physician burnout has been a trending topic for years, physicians don’t always recognize it within themselves, suggests a recent physician workload survey that included more than 3,700 physicians in nearly every specialty, work setting and region of the country. Though 74 percent of physicians reported frequently seeing symptoms of burnout in others, only 52 percent of them reported regularly feeling burned out themselves. The most commonly reported symptoms were irritability and apathy, followed closely by chronic fatigue and impaired memory and attention.
Physician burnout is a pressing problem, but it is manageable. Physicians need to prioritize taking better care of themselves, ideally with the support of their employer, and limit work hours, paperwork overload, and undue stress as much as possible. This may be easier said than done, so here we offer 6 tips to get started:
1. Recognize the symptoms of physician burnout
Common burnout symptoms physicians experience include irritability, apathy, chronic fatigue, and impaired memory and attention, which, unfortunately, can lead to medical errors. If any of these feelings ring true for you, it is important to acknowledge that you may be experiencing burnout.
2. Identify the causes
The first step in treating a problem is identifying the cause(s). Can you pinpoint what is weighing on you most heavily? Do you dread going to work every day? The top three reasons for physician burnout, according to a recent Medscape Physicians Lifestyle Report, are having too many bureaucratic tasks, spending too many hours at work, and feeling like just a cog in a wheel. When you spend too many hours at work, doing everything except what you care about most, burnout often ensues.
3. Make time for a break
Vacation time is available for a reason, and escaping from job stressors for a week or two is a great way to recharge and start recovering from burnout. Even if you aren’t able to get away for an extended period of time, daily breaks are therapeutic. Try to take at least an hour most days to do something you enjoy. A daily exercise routine, for example, is a great way to take a break and burn off stress.
4. Put family and friends first
Leave work stress where it belongs — at work. When you’re not on call, turn off your phone and don’t check your work email. That way when you’re with family and friends you are able to focus on them and whatever it is you’re doing. Be mindful to stay in the moment, and try to keep your head out of the hospital.
5. Pursue outside interests
What did you love to do before you got bogged down with work? Were you an avid skier? Did you enjoy going to the beach? Even sitting and reading quietly — something unrelated to work — can give you a break and the personal satisfaction you need to balance burnout.
6. Consider a practice alternative
Many physicians have found relief from burnout by working locum tenens full-time rather than a permanent position. Locum tenens providers don’t have to deal with hospital bureaucracy or spend as many hours at work. They are in control of their own schedule, deciding when, where, and how often they want to work, while still earning a comparable salary. And when they are at work, they can focus strictly on patient care. Then, when they go home, they are free to focus on friends, family, hobbies, and exploring new parts of the country.
Many physicians say they find a renewed love of medicine when they can focus on offering quality patient care and simply leave when their shift is over without worrying about office politics. This was the case for Demetri Poulis, MD, who was burned out after many years of being constantly on call. Fortunately, locum tenens gave him the healthy work/life balance he was desperately seeking.
If you think you may be experiencing burnout, locum tenens practice could be the solution. Explore opportunities in your specialty to swap burnout for unlimited changes of scenery, scheduling autonomy, freedom to focus on patient care, and much more.
To learn more about locum tenens as a career option, call 954.343.3050 and speak to a Weatherby consultant.