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physician burnout

Physician Burnout: Everything You Need to Know

Jul 28, 2021

Being a physician can be a high-stress career at the best of times. And indeed, there is a lot to be said about coping with the inevitable career-related stresses. This is, of course, a topic of concern, but more than this, we are experiencing a national crisis of physician burnout. This is significantly more problematic as the implications and consequences are dire to physicians, their patients, and eventually, to the medical field in general. We must develop an understanding of physician burnout, why it happens, what it looks like, what we can do to prevent it, and how to restore professionals who are currently in a state of burnout.  

Related: What is a Life Coach? What You Need to Know

What is Physician Burnout?

As a physician and a human being, you will expand three types of energy:

  • Physical (moving your body/activity) 
  • Emotional (ability to show compassion and be emotionally available)
  • Spiritual (feeling purposeful and inspired)

Burnout occurs when you expand more of these energies than you replenish over an extended period. Replenishment can happen during work, but mainly it occurs away from work while doing activities that bring you joy and inspiration. 

Essentially, burnout means you have been drained, and you're trying to drive your car without any gas in the tank. Stress can be hidden for a while, but the signs of burnout are harder to hide.   

What are the Early Signs & Symptoms?

Any physician can have a period of difficult days. How do you know the difference between that and burnout? Here are the early signs and symptoms of physician burnout:

  • Exhaustion - You feel completely depleted of all the forms of energy that make life enjoyable. You feel tired, even after a good night's sleep. 
  • Cynicism - Extending compassion and genuine emotion can feel "just too hard" to do. You may feel as though you aren't capable of connecting with your patients, empathy, or you may even find yourself being unkind to people you care about. 
  • Doubt - You may feel out of touch with your purpose and think that your work is ineffective or that you aren't a good doctor at all. 

Interestingly, male and female physicians show slightly different signs of burnout. Women usually begin burnout with emotional exhaustion, followed by cynicism and depersonalization. Men tend to experience the same two symptoms but in the reverse order. Their burnout shows up first as cynicism and depersonalization, followed by emotional exhaustion. Finally, while women begin to doubt the quality of their work, men usually skip this symptom. They tend to believe that their quality of work is unaffected by their exhaustion, negativity, and lack of compassion for their patients.  

Are you stuck, frustrated, and exhausted with your medical career? I would love to help bring joy back to medicine so you can enjoy all aspects of your life. Visit Deanna Larson MD to learn more. 

How Prevalent is Physician Burnout?

According to a report by Harvard, physician burnout is a much bigger problem than many might believe. They say that half of all doctors say they have experienced work-related depression, dissatisfaction, exhaustion, and an overall sense of failure. 

The Consequences

Physicians struggling with the above symptoms are twice as likely to make a grave medical mistake, with the ultimate result being the deterioration of their mental health. While the medical care industry acknowledges the enormity of the issue and its implications for patient care, it is still not understood or attended to sufficiently. 


What Causes Physician Burnout?

Here are the five most common causes of physician burnout:

  1. Clinical medicine. Dealing with pain, illness, disease, and death is brutal, to say the least. Having to help people who are usually at the worst points of their lives will drain even the most professional doctor. The high-stress situations are inescapable as long the physician continues to see patients. 
  2. The physicians' specific work. In addition to the generalized stress of practicing medicine, there may be other issues to deal with - work hours, finances, office politics, co-workers, etc.
  3. Your personal life. Stresses at home can also add to your stress load, making it impossible to recharge even when you aren't at work. Marriage and children, personal and family health, and financial concerns can make home-life just as draining as working. 
  4. The medical miseducation. Chronic overworking that begins in medical school and continues through residency can become an unhealthy habit. Physicians are taught to work hard and ignore all of their other needs to the detriment of their relationships and physical and mental health. 

Counseling will often reveal one of the following personas causing burnout:

  • Superhero complex. Physicians believe they should have all the answers and bear the burden of every problem they encounter. They never want to show 'weakness.' 
  • Workaholic. A person that works excessively and compulsively and is unable to attach from work.
  • Lone Ranger. Physicians who try to do everything without asking for assistance and also micromanagers. 
  • Perfectionist. Physicians who won't tolerate error on their own part or on the part of others. 
  1. The work environment and immediate supervisors. The final reason physicians suffer burnout is due to their work environments. Untrained or unskilled supervisors can make the workplace a difficult place to be.  

How Physicians Treat Burnout

There are two main things you can do to treat physician burnout:

  1. Lower stress levels. Try to identify the issues that drain your energy and make whatever adjustments you must to improve the situation.
  2. Improve your ability to replenish your strength and energy. 

In most cases, physicians can use both of these methods to prevent and also treat burnout. 

Life Coaching for Physicians 

Life coaching that's specifically for physicians can lessen burnout. Coaches partner with physicians to establish creative and thought-provoking processes that inspire them to maximize their professional and personal potential. Coaches can help physicians recover from burnout and enjoy their lives and their practices again. Experienced coaches use many mechanisms to improve the physician's life from the inside out. 

Be a Happy Doctor

Hopefully, we can all agree that happy doctors will provide the best care for their patients. Here are just a few attributes of the happiest doctors:

  • Alignment of their personality and professional roles.
  • Adequate financial remuneration.
  • Good work-life balance.
  • A satisfying long-term plan

These and other situations create an environment where a physician can enjoy job satisfaction and overall fulfillment. 

Does your medical career need to be recharged? Through coaching techniques, I can help you enjoy your practice and take your life and practice to new levels. Check out Deanna Larson MD for more information. 

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