Preventing physician burnout is a career-long undertaking. But with health care growing increasingly complex — and healthcare providers feeling the pressure of ever increasing regulations and massive workloads — it’s important that physicians focus on caring for their patients AND themselves.
With that in mind, here are five ways to keep burnout at bay:
1) Take a beat.
When you first started practicing medicine, everything was new and exciting. But, as the years went on, you probably settled into a routine — and before you knew it, you were pretty much cruising on autopilot. If you feel like you’ve lost your passion for what you do, it might be time to step away for a while.
Taking an extended vacation — a sabbatical, if you will — gives you a chance to refresh your perspective and refocus your goals. You owe it to yourself to get the most out of your career — and that might mean shifting your professional path to reignite your spirit.
In fact, as Rebecca Fox, MD, writes in this article, it may even mean pursuing work outside of the medical field. “It is entirely possible that after this time off, you may realize that you need to switch to a nonclinical career,” Fox said. “This is not the end of the world, and in fact may just make you happy for the next part of your life!”
It might sound counterintuitive — if you’re feeling burned out at work, why would you work more? But providing low- or zero-cost treatment to disadvantaged or underserved populations can actually help remind you of why you became a doctor in the first place.
There are so many people — here in the U.S. and abroad — who are in dire need of quality medical care. When you provide these critical services, you realize just how powerful your skillset is; you see the incredible impact you are capable of making.
Suddenly, all the stressors you face on a day-to-day basis don’t seem so insufferable, and you may return to work feeling reinvigorated and ready to continue making a difference in your regular patients’ lives.
3) Branch out.
As I mentioned in number one above, part of the reason so many physicians get burned out is that their daily routines become repetitive. They see the same kinds of patients with the same types of diagnoses day in and day out — especially if they specialize in a particular type of care.
Well, the only antidote to repetition is novelty. So, consider exploring a new area of practice or using your expertise for a different purpose (e.g., by participating in clinical research).
4) Improve your environment.
If your burnout stems from a less-than-ideal work atmosphere, take the initiative to change your environment. If you’re not able to take matters into your own hands directly, you may need to sit down and chat with your supervisor (remember, there’s a good chance you’re not the only one feeling this way, and it’s in your organization’s best interest to prevent turnover).
Some common areas that are ripe for improvement include:
- Scheduling: Allot enough time for each patient visit that appointments aren’t running up against each other, and give practitioners — including yourself — enough time to log required information in each patient’s electronic record. As this article from the Journal of General Internal Medicine points out, “There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of computer work required by primary care physicians. Strategies to address this include changing visit length to accommodate the extra work that computerized data brings, or adding ‘desktop’ slots to daily schedules.”
- Team Morale: Office culture is important in any field, medicine included. To foster an environment of collaboration, encourage physicians to not only talk to each other, but also work together when doing so is in a patient’s best interest. With the overarching shift to a more collaborative, patient-centered model of care delivery, this type of teamwork will become increasingly important. Also, consider holding team-building events outside of the office to strengthen personal connections among everyone in your organization.
- Technology: As I alluded to above, technology — including electronic health records systems — is a source of daily frustration for many healthcare practitioners. But there are plenty of ways to make technology work for — rather than against — you and your colleagues. For example, patient intake portals can help cut down on paperwork delays and improve patient experience — and less-grumpy patients means less-grumpy doctors. Additionally, telehealth platforms can help greatly reduce in-office chaos, as they allow doctors to easily conduct appointments via a secure videoconferencing system.
5) Ask for advice.
As a physician, you are in the business of helping people. But, you shouldn’t forget to ask for help yourself when you need it. One great resource for those in medicine: physician career coaches.
These advisors can help you suss out the true source of your discontent — and develop a plan for overcoming it. As Fox explains in her article, “...they can help you find alternatives or additions to keep you involved and interested and help prevent burnout.”
In the field of medicine, you can’t always control the situations you must deal with every day. But, you can control how you respond to stress, and 2017 is your year to take the reins and leave burnout in the dust.