QUOTE FROM Hans Selye, Founder of stress research

You survived medical school, internship, and residency. This is supposed to be the high point of your medical career. You’ve made it. You have the house, the car, the kids, the boat, the practice, the partners, and the career you always thought you wanted.

Do you want to throw it all away?

You’re not alone. You’re burned out.

Not singed. Not depressed or sad or stressed. You’re flat out done. Worn-out and through with this mess. You’re tired of getting up before the sun, putting in long hours, and keeping more plates spinning than you ever thought possible. You’ve got the student loans, the bad back, the mortgage, that drinking habit you like to call social… you spend more time fighting with your partner and children than you do lounging on that boat you’re not sure how you’re going to pay off.

So what happened to the rewarding career you wrote about in your medical school entrance essays? Yeah, you know the ones … where you explained how you wanted to change the world one patient’s smiling face at a time … or you were going to carry much-needed antibiotics into the far reaches of impoverished rural America with nothing but a walking stick and your trusty dog.

Those dreams died fast. I know. I’ve been there. And I didn’t last as long as you did before I hit that great blazing wall of depression and fatigue.

But did you know that more than half of Americans doctors will experience one or more symptoms of burnout this year?

Yes. You read that correctly.


Can you imagine what would happen if half of any other profession became unable to do their job? If half the teachers in America sat down in the middle of the school day because they were too overwhelmed to go on? What if half of our police force put down their badges, went home, and pulled the covers back over their heads because today they’d had enough of being overworked and made to jump through bureaucratic loopholes?

We, as Americans, would lose our collective minds. We’d stage sit-ins and walkouts and chain ourselves to flagpoles until legislation was enacted, ensuring that our teachers and first responders had safe and equitable working conditions, right?

You bet your student loans we would …

What if I told you that therate of suicide among our fellow physicians was among the highest in the country? That you, right now, reading this, and the people you work with, were at a far higher risk of suffering from severe depression or taking action to self-harm than the vast majority of people in your life?

Staggering … And not okay.
Which is why something must be done.

A good way to describe physician burnout is, according to Dr. Dike Drummond of The Happy MD, a negative balance in your emotional, physical, and spiritual energy accounts.

Was there a place, deep in your belly, that’s hoping against hope I’ll say burnout is caused by an obscure anaerobic bacteria? A B-12 deficiency? A lack of sleep or too much gluten?

I understand. We’re physicians. It’s who we are. Our own weaknesses are so much tidier when they can be looked up in the Physician’s Desk Reference. Perhaps that’s how our burnout has reached these epidemic levels.

Simply told, physician burnout happens when we’re expending more time and energy to cope with our surroundings than we have the resources to deal with in a healthy way. It’s a combination of external forces beyond our control like Congress changing healthcare legislation so we’re always on tenterhooks, wondering if we’ll be reimbursed by Medicare/Medicaid, or what the newest EMR will mean for our practice’s overhead. If we reach for unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or spending beyond our means, it only compounds the problem. Doctors face a set of problems unique to our workplace. And it’s a giant mashed up mess of societal, cultural, political, financial, and familial expectations of success.
Is it any wonder we’ve created a state of utter exhaustion and depression that’s hard to even explain … at least until you’ve been there?

Singular Causes of Physician Burnout

It is possible to point fingers at some specific issues that make burnout worse.

In Medscape’s 2017 Lifestyle Report, “too many administrative tasks” was ranked as a leading factor in burnout.

Another surprising factor? Frustration with EHR use.

Also included were worries over being sued, longer hours for less pay, and difficulties getting reimbursements.

A study at Johns Hopkins showed interns were spending 40% of their time behind a screen instead of with patients.

Is it any wonder that those admission essays about saving the world died along with our job satisfaction?

The solution is you. That sounds so very anti-zen of me to say, and it’s not the answer you wanted, but it’s the answer you’re going to get.

Okay so the answer isn’t entirely you.

But it starts with you. And the first step is in acknowledging that you’re dealing with more than a minor case of the blues or a little sleep deprivation. It means checking in and doing the self-awareness work to see how you really are.

We’ve put together a Physician Burnout Assessment for you. Download it. Find somewhere quiet. Take a minute to process and really think about what’s going on in your life. Be honest with yourself and stop trying to hide behind “well, things will get better when … ” because no, they won’t. Not until you deal with the underlying problem-you’re burned out.

The good news is that burnout isn’t permanent. There are solutions to what ails you. Just like you’d tell a patient to get the help they needed, I’m telling you now:

Take time for yourself. Simplify your life. Find a way to practice medicine that feels real and authentic … and that you can sustain.

We, your fellow physicians, need you. Your friends and loved ones need you. Your patients need you.

You’re worth it. You always have and always will be.

So when you’ve taken the time you need, when you’re rested and ready to find some creative solutions to keep your practice open but on your own terms, I’ll be here.

I’ve got some solutions to what ails you.

What’s the Difference between Stress and Physician Burnout?

Stress allows you to recover your natural reserves. You can be exhausted after a long stressful day, unwind that evening, and be back to normal the next day. With burnout, you’re trapped in a vicious downward spiral that never allows your natural reserves to rebound. You’re always fatigued no matter what you do to unwind.
When you’re stressed, you might feel less charitable than usual towards your patients but your general worldview doesn’t change. During burnout, your opinion of your patients is more jaded & cynical. You see the world in general as a more hostile, less forgiving, & less rewarding place.Burnout makes you question why you should even care. It robs you of your accomplishments. Even your most successful days feel hollow & empty. Stress might make you tired, but you still celebrate a major achievement.

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