The Truth About Physician Burnout

By Warren Kane, MD, Psychiatrist & Founder, Kane Psychiatry

Digital - July 2022
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Physicians now more than ever are experiencing unmanageable amounts of stress, burnout & depression. The Covid-19 Pandemic has accelerated these rates year after year and according to Medscape Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2022: Stress, Anxiety and Anger, 47% of physicians surveyed described feeling “Burned Out.” All medical specialties (excluding Public Health & Preventative Medicine) are experiencing Burnout rates of 33% or more, with Emergency Medicine at the top of the list with a reported 60% of physicians feeling burnt out.

 

What is Burnout?  

 

According to the WHO, “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by 3 dimensions: 1) Feelings of energy depletion/exhaustion 2) increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job 3) reduced professional efficacy.”

 

Physicians who experience burnout commonly report having little motivation, decreased patience, increased irritability, more arguments with their spouse, and compassion fatigue. Chances are that as a physician you or one of your colleagues has experienced burnout sometime in your career. 

 

Why is Burnout So Hard to Prevent?

 

Remember, burnout is a product of chronic workplace stress meaning that in order to successfully prevent it, we need to focus on changing our workplace environment.

 

Currently the approach to Physician Burnout is reactive rather than proactive. Meaning that a majority of burnout resources are directed to helping physicians who are already burnt out, rather than creating policies to prevent burnout in the first place. Examples of proactive measures include decreasing workloads, improving physician autonomy, and creating a community and culture of support.

 

Unfortunately, many of the proactive measures needed to change our workplace are simply outside the control of an employed physician. Most of the changes needed require hospital and administrative staff, of whom may be less inclined to make any immediate or significant changes. Given the current situation many burnt out physicians feel helpless.  

What Can We Do Better?

 

As physicians, we need to advocate for ourselves and our wellbeing. We need to take on leadership and administrative roles to help educate our non-medical peers about physician burnout and why proactive measures can have a far greater impact than reactive ones. 

 

It is important to recognize however that some of us might not have the opportunity to advocate for ourselves, or take on new leadership roles.  In these situations, it is important for physicians to actively and consistently work on improving their resiliency and mental wellbeing.

 

How can I improve my mental wellbeing?

 

The first step is simple, assess YOUR current wellbeing. Take a quick step back and ask yourself honestly if you are feeling burnt out. If you are, try to recognize why this is and what exactly at work is contributing to the burnout.

 

For many of us our work-life imbalance contributes to our burnout. Learn to set firm boundaries so that work remains at work. As physicians, we are notorious for work creep, meaning that we complete notes or respond to messages outside normal working hours. When this occurs, we slowly become worn down. Instead, at home focus on your hobbies and spend time with those who matter most to you. Our support systems recharge our mental wellbeing.

 

Another helpful tip is to make self-care a routine. Work on you mental wellbeing not only on your off days but also while at work too! This can be as simple as doing a 5-minute meditation in between patients or taking your next lunch break outside in nature. The more that we can make self-care a daily routine, the more resilient we will become.

 

The last tip I have for physicians out there is to get PROFESSIONAL help sooner than later.  Surprisingly, 27% of physicians experiencing burnout reported “doing nothing at all” when asked what they had done at work to try to alleviate their symptoms. Too often medical professionals wait to get the care they need. When this happens, physicians are at higher risk for developing depression, and anxiety. In other words, the consequences can be quite severe if burnout is not addressed soon after it starts.

 

Learn More About the Author:

Warren Kane, MD, is an Arizona Board Certified Psychiatrist & Founder of Kane Psychiatry. Dr. Kane graduated from the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson and completed his training in Psychiatry at the renowned University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. He is licensed to practice in Nevada, Arizona, and Iowa. He specializes in burnout in high achieving professionals and wants to share with you helpful and practical tips to prevent burnout. If you or a loved one want to learn more about professional burnout please feel free to contact him at  contact@kanepsy.com or visit the Kane Psychiatry website: www.KanePsy.com