Burnout is detrimental to any professional position, but it can be especially problematic in the medical field. Medical professionals are, at times, tasked with potentially overwhelming daily responsibilities, and while they are ideally trained to face down such adversities, underlying stress can still find its way in over time; this can lead to a variety of serious consequences ranging from higher malpractice risk to physician suicide.
The burnout epidemic has also been costly for the medical field as a whole. Per the Daily Mail, recent studies have linked physician burnout to an annual loss of around $4.6 billion in the US. Pair this phenomenon with burnout’s immediate mental and physical side effects, and you are left with a problem that is both potent and multifaceted.
However, thanks to increased awareness and research, there are numerous proven ways to address burnout before it becomes a major problem.
Understanding burnout before it starts
TheHappyMD identifies three distinct symptoms serving as a collective prelude to physician burnout: physical and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished personal achievement. These symptoms can signify a slippery slope than can quickly morph into a full-fledged downward spiral if they are not nipped in the bud:
- Exhaustion can take numerous shapes, and it is arguably the most troublesome of burnout symptoms since it can be easily misinterpreted as general day-to-day tiredness, something all professionals experience from time to time. That said, if you find yourself feeling chronically drained — both physically and emotionally — and you observe a lessened ability to recover after hours, you may be experiencing ruinous exhaustion.
- Depersonalization is also capable of taking different forms, but it can also be overtly damaging to those around you. Initial signs include consistent feelings of cynicism and negativity, but the problem can eventually manifest as a sensation of bodily detachment, and this pairing can make you less present during daily responsibilities (and therefore less effective or empathetic to your patients).
- Diminished personal achievement is more of an internal struggle, but one that is serious nonetheless. This problem involves a full shift in perspective to your professional surroundings — generally from a positive, fulfilling one to a negative, bleak one. In the medical field, this shift can be a major crisis, as a cynical, self-deprecating physician cannot hope to bring quality service to those depending on them.
What can be done to stop burnout?
Burnout prevention starts at the problem’s root; it can take a full team effort to foster a positive, transparent culture where negative feelings cannot hope to thrive. This symbiotic approach is key, as today’s medical field demands warrant a stronger sense of community and commiseration, which, when implemented healthily, can set a precedent of positivity and efficiency.
On their own, burnout-prone physicians can also employ a variety of tactics to keep themselves in a stable place. Mindful meditation, as covered in a previous blog, can be immensely helpful in combating medical-related stress, and it can be practiced in a variety of ways to dull the aforementioned pre-symptom areas and reset potential “invisible stresses” produced from the work environment as a whole.
The latter in mind, the fight against burnout can sometimes feel like an unfair one, where physicians are cornered and left to their own defenses as their fast-paced industry continues around them, but if approached and handled properly, burnout can be kept in check; and the process can create a fresh professional perspective along the way.