5 Ways to Counteract Physician Burnout

Physician burnout is real.

In a country that already faces a troubling shortage of physicians, we see a reduction in hours, specifically by older physicians (which often correlates with emotional exhaustion). And they continue to retire earlier.

Healthcare provider satisfaction lies at the heart of quality, value-based healthcare. Yet, all too often, providers suffer from symptoms of burnout, which can affect not only the quality of care they give to patients, but also their own health--e.g., substance abuse.

Long hours, feelings of isolation, cost-effective payment models, feelings of inefficacy and spending twice as much time on clerical work as they do with patients all contribute to symptoms of burnout experienced by more than half of US physicians. These physicians experience nearly twice as much emotional exhaustion, poor work-life balance, and depersonalization, and even suicide, as compared to the general working population.


The Importance of Self-Care

Both individual and organization-level strategies can help reduce physician burnout. For example, the Mayo Clinic’s new Listen-Act-Develop model focuses on treating physicians like partners, not employees, by providing choices (aka empowering!), connection, and meaningful collaboration. AMA has its STEPS Forward™ initiative, another example of healthcare organizations striving for the “Quadruple Aim--better patient experience, better population health and lower overall costs with improved professional satisfaction”.

As healthcare continues to change rapidly, moving toward Health 3.0--from Big Medicine to human connection--and, as we focus more and more on provider-patient relationships, we cannot forget the importance of self-care.

Here are five ways to start counteracting potential burnout:


Put on your own mask first & nix the guilt

You know the airplane drill: Put on your own mask first before helping others, because it you can’t take care of you, then you can’t take care of anyone else. As a healthcare professional, you focus on taking care of others professionally--not to mention your personal life. However, as difficult as it may seem with a busy schedule full of obligations and commitments, you need to prioritize your own health. Furthermore, your habits strongly influence the habits of your patients, so it is important to practice what you preach and take care of you!  


Create space for health

Prioritizing self-care can mean scheduling it as you would any other must-do appointment! No time to exercise? Schedule it in your weekly planner! Creating space for it allows you to “have time” for it, in some form or fashion. If you don’t, then life will take over, and push health out of the way as “unnecessary”. It feels empowering to have more control over how you choose to spend your free time, and exercise can serve as a great form of stress relief.


Connect to your values

Many physicians struggle, more so than other professionals, with work-life balance. According to Dr. Tait Shanafelt, hematologist and physician burnout researcher at the Mayo Clinic, “It’s a mentality of ‘work now, when I retire I’ll get to personal life’.” To prevent burnout, continually reconnect to your values, including passions, hobbies, and time with family and friends. You can still work hard now, while setting boundaries and making time for other aspects of your life.


Connect with your community

Working in a healthcare office can feel isolating at times, and taking time to connect with colleagues can not only lift your spirits, it can also improve meaningful collaboration. Being part of an empathetic community of support can inspire positive mindsets and even help motivate beneficial habits. Sharing stories can build relationships and remind you that you’re not alone.


Focus on building meaningful patient relationships

An approach like Cleveland Clinic’s REDE (Relationship: Establishment, Development, and Engagement) training--a one-time training focused on relationship-centered communication with patients--can lead to better long-term health outcomes for patients and can decrease feelings of burnout in physicians. Feeling like you are making a difference and truly connecting with patients can significantly improve your job satisfaction by creating meaning in your daily work.


Experts agree that we need more evidence-based research to reduce burnout. But, as with all “revolutions”, it starts with a conversation. So let’s keep talking, collaborating, and taking steps forward together.