Physician Burnout – What To Do

stressSigns of physician burnout can range from decreased enthusiasm for work, increased cynicism and a low sense of accomplishment.  Where at one time the physician may have felt a burning passion for medicine, he may feel that “light” burning out, perhaps completely.  It could even feel like there is nothing left to give.   Some may turn to self-destructive habits like prescriptions, illicit substances or alcohol.  Others may even consider suicide.  Some may turn to others for help, see a professional for counseling or even leave their practice for other work.

Friends, family and even professionals and organizations might recommend stress reduction and coping skills.  Anyone suffering from burnout will seem highly stressed.  They feel overworked, overburdened and unfulfilled.  Although reducing stress by cutting back on hours or lifting some of the burdens of busy work can seem helpful,  it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

In addition to reducing the dissatisfying or stressful parts of the job, you need to increase the fulfillment.  At it’s heart, medicine is a calling.  A physician must stop and focus on the work itself.  What has the most meaning?  What makes them feel most proud? What difference are they making in the lives of their patients and communities?  The key to combatting physician burnout is not to reduce stress, but to promote professional fulfillment.  Physicians beginning to feel the burn out should look back and remember what brought them to their calling.  They and medical educators could help guide students and residents to explore and connect with a sense of calling to the profession. This would help reduce burnout in later years.  They must never forget that a career in medicine represents one of life’s greatest opportunities to become fully human through service to others.

Gunderman MD, PhD, Richard. “The Root Of Physician Burnout” The Atlantic. 22 Aug 2012

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