What Can You Do About Physician Burnout?

The 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians: Practice Patterns and Perspectives, conducted on behalf of The Physicians Foundation by health care consultancy Merritt Hawkins, found that 78% of physicians surveyed suffered from burnout. The definition of this term tends to vary but, in 2019, the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) defined it as a syndrome with three components: 1) emotional exhaustion, 2) depersonalization or cynicism, and 3) a lack of a sense of personal accomplishment.

4 broad categories

Burnout prevention and management tends to fall into four broad categories:

  1. Achieving life balance,
  2. Improving time management efficiency,
  3. Developing methods for staying calm and centered, and
  4. Sharing the workload.

There are hundreds of ways to deal with burnout, depending on the situation. But two in particular rise to the top of many lists of most effective techniques.

Create a boundary ritual

Physicians need to mark the boundary between work and home. A boundary ritual is a way to remind yourself that you’re home rather than at work. It can involve many strategies, such as intentionally taking a deep breath as you put your car into park in your driveway or the act of hugging your kids.

Other simple strategies include taking the dog for a walk, going for a run, taking a nap or changing your clothes. It doesn’t really matter what the action is, as long as you consciously recognize the activity as a boundary between work and home.

Set up a life calendar

As a professional, you likely already have a work calendar — but a life calendar (or “schedule hack”) is a not-work calendar. This is particularly vital if you have children.

Once a week, it’s a good idea to sit down with your family and plan the week ahead. Keep the life calendar next to your work calendar, and if a colleague asks you to work for him or her on Wednesday evening, you can check to see whether you have a previous commitment. This is how to become proficient at saying the life-balance magic word: No.

Ask for help

If you’re having problems telling the difference between burnout and clinical depression, and your current ways of dealing with stress aren’t working, ask for help. Reach out — whether to a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor or trusted colleague. It’s important to reduce burnout — not only for yourself, but also for your family and patients.

If you have any questions, please contact Deirdre Hartmann or Harlene Stevens at (973) 298-8500. 

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