Healthy Work Tips

Work Burnout is Dangerous, Especially for Doctors

Physician burnout, a physician stressed at his desk

Burnout is something that can happen to anyone who works too hard without taking good care of themselves. When you put too much emphasis on the job and not enough on your personal wellbeing, it’s not just your attitude and free time that take a hit, your health can suffer as well. No matter how important the new project is or how much money you can make in over time, all the benefit you think you’re gaining is likely to evaporate into medical bills if you wind up in the hospital due to overstress.

What may surprise you is that medical doctors are among the most likely to neglect their health in favor of long work hours and too many tasks. Unfortunately, this isn’t just an interesting fact, it’s practically an epidemic. If you are a doctor already teetering on the edge of frustration and exhaustion or know someone who is, don’t forget to set aside a little time to take care of yourself as well as your patience.

What is Burnout?

Burnout refers to the experience that many professionals go through in which work stress becomes overwhelming and they detach from commitment or even happiness in response. This is most common in high-demand groups that serve a large number of people. The term burnout itself represents a form of burning your energy, in which every stressful task burns away a little more of your commitment and job satisfaction until there is dangerously little left. When you’re out of energy to burn, burnout occurs. That said, it almost never happens all at once. Like cataracts, you don’t notice it right away. It starts as a growing reluctance to get up in the morning or an impatience that never seems to fade anymore. Eventually, the weariness and bad mood start bringing down performance.

Common Burnout Symptoms Include

  • Exhaustion
  • Decreased empathy
  • Cynicism
  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Feel a lack of accomplishment

Causes of Physician Burnout

Whether they are running an independent practice or part of a large hospital, there are a great many demands on almost any modern physician. The necessity of worrying not only about patient health, but also administration tasks and the impact of insurance policies adds an unprecedented amount of stress to their lives. These demands can stack up, along with an endless number of patients who need attention, to reduce the time physicians spend taking care of themselves and increase the chance of burnout.

Bureaucratic Tasks

Due to the way doctors offices are arranged and must work to provide care, it’s no surprise that physicians end up at the center of their individual and shared practices. Each has an incredible amount of power over the success of their medical business and pysicians are usually deeply invested in their workplace. Unfortunately, this means that what should have been a job of reasonable hours and duties caring for patients, physicians end up doing the paperwork, along with policy and staff management, creating much more than a healthy workload. Physicians who try to tackle administrative tasks on their own are at a higher risk of burnout.

Long Hours

Most people become physicians because they want to help others. Unfortunately, this often leads to overcommitment even when physicians don’t have the energy or time to spare. With a constantly growing population, there will always be another patient who needs care. Burnout becomes much more likely in doctors who allow themselves to work too-long hours.

Lack of Control

As powerful as physicians are inside their offices, they are nearly helpless to the much larger and incredibly important forces of insurance and government policy. Medicare may force a clinic to run at a loss and increasing insurance prices may drive away patients. When physicians feel like they don’t have the freedom to make the changes they desire, burnout is just around the corner.

Fighting Back Against Burnout

The problem with burnout is that it can’t be fought with a prescription for antibiotics. It requires you to actually slow down, relax, and take care of yourself. Whether you’re a doctor facing a growing patient or have over-dedicated yourself to a different profession, make sure to get plenty of rest, eat well, and take a little time for yourself. If your schedule is packed, you can do some efficient relaxing with some meditation and get back a little more time each day with delegation and task automation software. Remember, no matter how important getting an extra hour of work in seems today, if you make yourself sick you’ll lose a lot more hours than you’re gaining now.

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