Prevent Burnout Before It Burns You! – Part 2

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POSTED IN: EPIC - The Official Newsletter of MOCEP, March/April 2017,

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.

The first five tips of this article were featured in the January 2017 issue of EPIC.

  1. Lower workplace stress

Explore ways to lessen exposure to your work environment.  Your organization may be able to modify policies to allow part time hours for those seeking less than full time employment.  Offer flexible hours without treating the part-timers as “slackers”.[1]  This will also support those who need to restructure schedules for a period of time, such as new parents or those caring for aging parents.  Working for such a supportive organization builds retention and satisfaction.

  1. Alter the way you work

Identify the aspects of your work that are draining your energies and strive to modify them.  Perhaps your team may take on these tasks.  You may need to restructure your workflow and/or staffing .  Using “scribes” may be a viable option.  Another possibility worth exploring is job sharing.

  1. Consider a less stressful position in medicine that better meets your needs and goals

It may be beneficial to have a contingency plan for a worst-case scenario.  John-Henry Pfifferling, Director of the Center for Professional Well-Being says that “physicians are more likely to stay in a toxic situation if they haven’t conceptualized a potential out, planned for the worst-case scenario, or remained flexible to change.” [2]  Missouri Physicians Health Program has worked with physicians to identify plans for transitioning to a work setting that promotes the medicine they want to practice and honors their personal needs.

  1. Another road

While leaving medicine to retire, changing careers, or managing your career in a different way is a difficult decision, this can be a viable option for some physicians.  Change is difficult but can often be the path to better professional and personal health.  There are professionals in the community that can support you through this process.  Missouri Physicians Health Program has resources for these individuals and has seen great outcomes as a result.

Lastly, we agree with Amy Elwood, MSW, LCSW, who says that “curricular reform that embraces a life-work balance and wellness should being early in medical education and continue throughout professional development.” [3]  Similarly, Wayne Sotile, PhD, author of The Resilient Physician, states that such a proactive approach is desperately needed.  “Attending to physician resilience needs to be elevated from the ‘soft’ side to a strategic initiative that is a human resources crisis nationally.  We need to utilize organizational resources to truly facilitate resilience in physicians from training through retirement.” [4]

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.


Recommended Reading:


Finding Balance in a Medical Life, Lee Lipsenthal, MD

Resilience Enhancement for the Resident Physician, Edward Messner, MD

The Resilient Physician:  Effective Management for Doctors and Medical Organizations,

            Wayne M. and Mary O. Sotile

[1] The Happy M.D. blog

[2] Sara Michael, “A Stress Reduction Guide that Works,” Physicians Practice, February 2010.

[3] Amy Elwood, Annals of Behavioral Science and Medical Education, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 1, 26-27.

[4] Wayne M. and Mary O. Sotile, The Resilient Physician:  Effective Emotional Management for Doctors and Medical Organizations.


[1] Amy Elwood, Annals of Behavioral Science and Medical Education, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 1, 26-27.

[1] Wayne M. and Mary O. Sotile, The Resilient Physician:  Effective Emotional Management for Doctors and Medical Organizations.