Battling Burnout in Medicine

Burnout comes in many forms and the specific causes are still hotly debated, however one thing is clear - attempt to research the term and you’ll notice it seems to be disproportionately associated with physicians.

People suffering burnout will experience fatigue, apathy, low mood and often intense anxiety among other things but more insidiously they may also suffer a long prodrome of dissatisfaction, insecurity and poor performance at work - leading them to question themselves, their life choices and career options.

Are healthcare workers just more introspective and self-aware, and therefore, more likely to recognize and discuss burnout? Or does this association have more to do with the fact that, with current pressures on modern healthcare systems, we’re prone to overworking, having weakened social networks and ultimately to moral injury?

Doctors are slowly becoming more aware of some of the insidious personal costs associated with working long hours and sacrificing our personal pleasures or our social networks. If these sacrifices eventually lead to feelings of burnout or a resentment of our job or even indirect harm to our patients then, ultimately, what was the point?

I recognize that the ultimate responsibility for burnout in doctors lies with the healthcare systems that we work in and without systemic changes to this, little can be done. However, if we want to protect ourselves as individuals then we can try to modify certain risk factors.

I personally subscribe to the view that taking time away from our typical routines or just creating mental distance, is essential to prevent burnout in individuals who feel like that are developing it. Time away from work doesn’t have to mean taking unpaid leave - you can use academic leave to attend exciting courses which help remind you why you wanted to be a doctor in the first place, or pick up side-line projects unrelated to your field that provide you with some much needed mental distance.

Written by Dr E. Blanchard.