Written by Mary C. Fahey, LCSW, Clinical Coordinator, MPHP & Nancy G. Morton, Hospital Services Coordinator, MPHP and Editor of The Physician Lifeline
We are all familiar with recent studies that detail the frequency of physician burnout. The prevalence of burnout suggests that the causal factor lies within our healthcare delivery system rather than in the weaknesses of individual practitioners. As the demands upon practicing physicians will be further increasing with the expected volume of patients to increase significantly under the Affordable Care Act, it behooves physicians to take preventive steps to stave off possible burnout.
Burnout is often characterized by fatigue, impaired ability to connect with your patients, staff and co-workers and sometimes even questioning whether what you do makes any difference. Burnout may lead to depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and can jeopardize patient care.
With increases in tasks unrelated to direct patient care and anticipated increases in patient volume, the more important it is to counterbalance these stressors. The following tips may assist you in combating these challenges.
- Strive to re-build energy
Ask yourself these questions: Apart from your career, what is important to you? What things recharge your batteries and provide satisfaction? Start with getting enough sleep, regular exercise and good nutrition. You may be an excellent health provider but how well do you treat yourself? What activities and hobbies do you enjoy? When was your last vacation? How often do you enjoy an evening with your spouse or significant other free from interruptions? Are you doing things on your personal bucket list? A critical component of re-building energy is maintaining balance between your work life and your outside life. Practice saying no to unreasonable requests.
- Take a break
When a stressor rears its head, try taking 10 deep breaths or going for a short walk. It may just be enough to give you a new perspective on the immediate problem.
- Consider enrolling in a Mindfulness training program
There are training programs available for physicians at several locations across the country. A variety of studies show this kind of training can reduce stress and burnout and help with focus and concentration. It may be helpful to be able to recognize the onset of stress and whether you are holding on to negative emotions. Mindfulness training can teach you techniques to release these damaging emotions in the moment.
- Pair up with a colleague or coach
You may wish to partner with a colleague to discuss difficult situations and work on letting go of festering frustrations, and anger. Having a coach or colleague with whom you share your concerns can be a big stress reliever in and of itself. Physicians are often desensitized to stress, as it has been such a constant companion throughout professional training and careers. Therefore, you may need a “buddy” to help you identify the source of your increasing stress. Kernan Manion, a psychiatrist whose own burnout led him to found a coaching firm for people in healthcare, says “if we don’t get a comprehensive view of where the stress is coming from, then we are bad clinicians, because we aren’t looking at multiple sources. With stressors identified, it’s easier to begin to find solutions.”
- Remember the reason you practice medicine
Focus on the things that will boost your mood. Reflect on your accomplishments, and your goals.
The remainder of this article will be featured in the March 2017 issue of EPIC. If you find yourself, or know of a co-worker, that may be dealing with burnout, addiction or behavioral issues, please reach out to Missouri Physicians Health Program. All calls are kept confidential.
 Dike Drummond, M.D., The Happy MD blog.
 Sara Michael,”A Stress Reduction Guide that Works”, Physicians Practice, February, 2010.