Burnout is officially recognized as an occupational phenomenon. It is a “state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” Among physicians, they often describe it as feeling overextended, drained, and “used up”. Typically, those who experience burnout exhibit visible exhaustion, cynicism or inability to connect with patients and co-workers, as well as doubt (Smith et al., 2019).
The question remains though: why does a big chunk of healthcare workers experience burnout? Is it an occupational hazard? Or is it a systemic problem with how people run hospitals and clinics? Or is it perhaps the work itself that’s so draining?
Why do healthcare workers experience burnout?
In fact, it’s all of these things. Various factors contribute to burnout, some of which have to do with the work environment and the work itself, others are due to their own personal traits, and more often, burnout could be a result of the organizational system of their profession.
As medical professionals, it’s a given that the job entails long working hours and an excessive workload. Additionally, doctors often have to deal with morbidity and patient deaths which do take a significant toll on the self.
Moreover, medical training is so rigorous that students have to adjust to cope with the load. Many of them end up developing traits, which are otherwise detrimental in the long run (i.e. perfectionism, sleep deprivation, and overcommitment). These traits often lead to burnout.
From a more organizational point of view, burnout can also be attributed to “negative leadership behaviors, unreasonable workload expectations from superiors, insufficient rewards, and limited interpersonal collaboration with colleagues.”
It’s clear that the medical profession is taxing physically, mentally, and emotionally. What is not as clear, is what doctors are expected to do when they begin to feel the brunt of their workload.
How do you prevent burnout?
Acknowledge that you're susceptible to it. First things first, like most things, it’s always better to prevent burnout rather than to treat it. Doctors should be able to recognize the signs of burnout and treat them accordingly, much like how they can recognize the symptoms of an illness and make an appropriate diagnosis. The more self-aware they are, the faster they’ll be able to take steps to prevent and mitigate their stress and fatigue.
Have relaxing break times. Healthcare workers are also often surrounded by morbidity and mortality situations so their chances for exhaustion are high. Breaks and day-offs should be carefully planned to manage this. Relaxation techniques, like yoga or even therapy, could also help a lot.
Use tech to simplify the workload. Management should also take steps to prevent burnout. This starts from making sure that clinic workflows are efficient and logical. This means that workloads should be distributed evenly and appropriately among the clinic staff and doctors. Without any unnecessary clerical or administrative work, doctors would have an easier time managing their patients.
To address this, many clinics subscribe to a clinic management system or practice management software that assists them with their workflows.
Learn new things. Moreover, healthcare workers should be given more opportunities to advance their skills and their careers. Workshops, trainings, and even wellness days would give them chances to unwind and think more about themselves.
This goes for most, if not all, people: when your growth is stagnant or when you’re stuck doing the same thing over and over, you begin to feel helpless in your current position. When physicians end up feeling stuck in a routine, this only contributes to feelings of no growth and subsequently, burnout.
Burnout is an occupational hazard for most, if not all, professions. For some, it’s seen as inevitable. However, employers and employees should always remember that the goal is to seek happiness in the workplace for a more efficient working environment for all those involved. It doesn’t just affect healthcare workers—this is apparent for all workplaces. By prioritizing the well-being of your staff, you’re also prioritizing the wellbeing of your clients, and the well-being of your company.
- Aguilar, R. (December 14 2019). The Pursuit of Happiness in Healthcare Workplace. Retrieved from HealthXPh: https://healthxph.net/master-class/the-pursuit-of-happiness-in-healthcare-workplace/
- Drummond, D. (2019). Physician Burnout - the Three Symptoms, Three Phases and Three Cures. Retrieved from The Happy MD: https://www.thehappymd.com/blog/bid/290755/physician-burnout-the-three-symptoms-three-phases-and-three-cures
- Patel, R., et al. (October 5 2018). Factors Related to Physician Burnout and Its Consequences: A Review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6262585/
- Smith, M., et al. (October 2019). Burnout Prevention and Treatment. Retrieved from HelpGuide: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm
- UNC Health Talk. (January 25 2018). 5 Tips to Prevent or Mitigate Physician Burnout. Retrieved from https://healthtalk.unchealthcare.org/5-tips-to-prevent-or-mitigate-physician-burnout/