7 Helpful Tips to Combat Physician Burnout
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
The American Medical Association reports that half of practicing physicians suffer from burnout, a condition characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of accomplishment. The adverse effects of burnout on the individual physician can be overwhelming, including loss of focus, low morale, reduced attention to personal care (poor eating, not getting enough exercise or sleep), alcohol or drug abuse, and even suicidal ideation. In addition to the impact on the individual, physician burnout involves “innocent bystanders” by negatively affecting the quality of patient care, interactions with colleagues, and personal relationships.
As financial advisors who specialize in working with physicians, we know that burnout can also negatively affect a doctor’s financial life. A loss of focus that reduces the quality of care can lead to a loss of patients in a private practice and can result in serious medical mistakes that lead to malpractice suits. Even if a lawsuit is successfully defended, it can raise a physician’s malpractice insurance premiums and stress. In short, burnout interferes with one’s ability to achieve financial goals and enjoy life.
How to Reduce Physician Burnout
According to an article recently published by the National Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI), approaches to reducing physician burnout fall into two main categories: (1) self-directed interventions that focus on the individual, and (2) interventions focusing on the work environment. In this article, we offer practical tips on both, and both are important.
Methods of combating burnout may seem somewhat “new age,” and some physicians may feel like doctors in the past were simply able to shake it off, pull it together, snap out of it – in other words, they just dealt with it. The reality is, in bygone days, doctors did not have to deal with the pressures of modern medicine, and their approaches to handling burnout often involved suppressing their feelings, drinking too much, alienating their families and developing stress-related diseases. Nowadays, new age-y techniques are a better option. Don’t dismiss any of them offhand, especially the ones that seem trite or self-indulgent.
As for the work environment, simple changes in work schedules and a reallocation of some tasks can reduce stress levels for doctors and support staff, and can even have a profound effect on the way a practice or healthcare organization operates.
7 Practical Tips for Reducing Burnout
With that in mind, we offer these seven helpful tips for reducing burnout:
Schedule regular time for yourself. Think of this as a recurring appointment with a long-time patient, one that cannot be canceled or postponed. Spend that time doing something unrelated to medicine that you find rewarding. That might be taking a hike, volunteering for an hour, reading for pleasure, playing a musical instrument (talent not required), visiting a museum, or trying out a new recipe (if it fails, laugh it off and have a pizza delivered).
Learn mindfulness techniques. Taking a 10-minute break to sit by yourself, in a quiet space, identifying your feelings at that moment (anxious, bored, disappointed, whatever) can work wonders. Several excellent mindfulness apps can help with this – here’s a list prepared by the American Academy of Family Physicians of apps that doctors can recommend to their patients – in this case, you are your patient.
Practice Yoga. Recent estimates show that about 36 million people in the U.S. practice yoga regularly (at least once or twice a week) - that’s over 10% of all adults. And, the number of men practicing yoga has increased by 150% percent in the past four years. Over 50% of those who do yoga say it helps them to release tension. The Journal of Clinical Medicine recently published a meta-study on the use of yoga to manage and prevent stress and burnout in healthcare workers, and a study in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health showed that yoga-based stress management demonstrates benefits above and beyond cognitive behavioral stress management.
Check-in with your sense of humor. Laughter indeed can be the best medicine, and it’s a prescription that we should all refill regularly. If you find you are easily irritated and can’t remember the last time you had a good laugh, treat it like a vitamin deficiency. Read a few of the latest utterly fabricated news headlines on The Onion, or ask a teenager for the Instagram accounts or Reddit threads with the best memes. Take a few minutes here and there to laugh at work every day.
Reduce time spent with EHR. Many surveys show that spending excessive amounts of time on EHR can have a substantial, negative impact on a doctor’s professional wellbeing. If that sounds familiar, be proactive and seek out additional training to become more efficient with your EHR system and look for other ways to spend less time with it.
Find ways to make your workplace more efficient and improve teamwork. Creating efficiencies can cut down on frustration for both physicians and support staff. Hold a brainstorming session that includes people in various roles (doctors, nurses, support staff) and talk about how to improve workflow. Include patient in-take, pre-appointment paperwork, and post-appointment processes. Identify the top three suggestions and implement them. In three months, assess and adjust.
Seek support. In a survey conducted by Medscape, the National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019, over 15,000 physicians from 29 specialties were asked questions about how burnout affects their lives. Over half reported suffering from either burnout (44%) or depression (15%). While the problem has not gone unnoticed – 45% of healthcare organizations and 27% of hospitals offer some type of physician burnout support – many doctors who could benefit do not participate in these programs. This reluctance is understandable in some ways, but not when one considers the consequences of not addressing the problem. Those in private practice who do not have access to a support group can create an informal group with professional contacts in the area. Invite a guest speaker with expertise on burnout. Meet outdoors, if possible.
If you are a physician and are feeling burned out on the job, it’s appropriate to discuss this with your Gold Medal Waters advisor. Our focus is on your overall well being because, after all, the ultimate purpose of working to achieve your financial goals is to enjoy life to the fullest.