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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.