An alarming report published in Medscape’s National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019, cite burnout to be a common issue in many physicians.
15,000 physicians across 29 specialties were interviewed. While 44% cite burnout, 15% cite depression.
But most striking is 14% of physicians contemplated suicide.
The most common specialties feeling burned out include:
- Urology 54%
- Neurology 53%
- Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation 52%
- Internal Medicine 49%
- Emergency Medicine 48%
…with the least burnout seen in Pathology (33%), Nephrology (32%) and Public Health & Preventative Medicine (28%). Still alarming numbers…..
Female physician burnout rose to 50%, outpacing males, 39%.
Factors leading to burnout were reported to be paperwork and charting, long hours, and increasing computerization of practice (Electronic Health Records).
57% of physicians working over 71 hours a week reported burnout.
Additionally, a study last year from the American Medical Association (AMA), the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University finds 1 in 5 physicians plan to cut back their hours next year and 1 in 50 will leave the profession completely within the next 2 years.
Burnout is cited to be the main cause and is one of the biggest threats to healthcare today.
According to AMA President Dr. David Barbe, “An energized, engaged, and resilient physician workforce is essential to achieving national health goals.”
And burnout affects all fields of medicine, surpassing 50%, in those including primary care and specialties such as gynecology, neurology, urology, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, cardiology and critical care to name a few.
Patients are at risk because if doctors aren’t at the top of their game, things get missed. Moreover the keen instinct of a clinician is imperative to diagnosing correctly, and this gets blunted when one is emotionally fatigued, or burned out.
Why are Doctors Burning Out?
A variety of factors can lead to physician burnout but the following appear to be the most cited:
- Electronic medical records – these are time-consuming to learn and implement, take time away from patients and may be financially burdensome due to their cost and lack of revenue for those who struggle to type and work with computers.
- High patient insurance deductibles – with insurance companies not paying until patients reach their deductible, it forces doctor’s offices to work harder to collect the income needed to run a practice. Physicians do not want to get into the financial aspect of patient collections and it adds undue stress on an already stressful field.
- Red tape – ICD 10 code changes, insurance authorizations, referral forms turn the average day of a physician to less patient care and more bureaucracy.
- Less respect – in the old days, doctors were considered heroes and revered greatly. Today they are frequently blamed for issues such as rising healthcare costs and the opioid epidemic.
- Malpractice suit fears – doctors are human and can only combat nature so much. When one is diagnosed with cancer a physician has to fear that one will accuse him of not diagnosing it “quickly enough”. When a lab gets ordered, the clinician has to hope that his staff is ensuring that every lab value comes across his desk. When a prescription gets written, he has to hope that the correct medicine gets dispensed, works effectively and does not cause an adverse reaction. And when a referral is made to a specialist, he has to hope all the above issues go well with the second physician or he can be sued for the referral. And since a doctor sees thousands of patients a year, the odds that he will be sued for something is higher than any other profession. Moreover, one lawsuit is a enough to bankrupt him. Pretty darn stressful.
What are the signs of burnout?
In any profession, the following may be signs of burnout:
- Poor sleep
- Negative attitude at work
- Absence from work
- Being irritated
- Feeling empty
- Dreading going to work
- Feeling underappreciated
- Feeling you don’t matter
- Blame others for mistakes
- Low energy
- Thinking about quitting
How to prevent burnout?
- Find the humor – As Milton Berle once said, “Laughter is an instant vacation”. Watching a comedy or taking a 10 minute break to watch some funny You Tube clips offers immediate relief and energizes you. A day without laughter is a day wasted. Charlie Chaplin
- Take care of yourself – how can one heal others when he himself needs healing? So what can you do? Try Massage, Meditation, Yoga, Exercise, Stress diary, Sleep, Mini vacations, Staycations but most of all…..Take breaks!!
- Learn to say “No” – It’s OK to take a day off. Why not take off early on Friday’s? Or better yet, work a half day on Wednesday to break up the week? Learn the 4 D’s…..Deflect, Defer, Deter, Delegate…..
- Make small goals – too many times we burnout because we failed to meet a goal that was unattainable in the first place. So we toil for years to become “promoted”, or “wealthy”, or “slim”, or “married”, or “see the world”. Instead, make smaller attainable goals (find a partner, open auxiliary office, lose 10 lbs, take a trip).
- Quit comparing yourself to others – we watch Shark Tank and then wonder what we are doing wrong, not being millionaires. It’s unrealistic to think you should be “rich by now”. We will always be inferior to someone else. So get over it and love who you are and what you’ve accomplished.
- Have fun at work – contests, pot luck lunches, lunch room decorating, accent days, dress up days, and end of the week happy hour can spice things up at work. Plus it increases morale among coworkers and staff.
- Be charitable – Doing community service is so rewarding and energizing that having a pet project helping out a local charity may be just what this doctor orders. You can choose a cause, fundraise, attend charity events or walks, or even create a campaign.
- Get a hobby – tap into your artistic side by writing a book, song, article; paint; cook; build; teach; sing; dance; or even ride.
- Work on your bucket list – whether its going to a foreign country, learning to speak a new language, buying a vacation property, or even starting a second business, don’t let job burnout deter you. This may give you the energy and perspective you need.
Finally, be around others and have a Bitch and Moan session – it feels so good to complain and gripe. Find others in similar situations as you and you’ll realize that you may have it better than you think.
Remember you have to come first and doing so will make you more of a help to others. Feel great and you’ll make others feel great!