Creative Ways to Beat Physician Burnout
May 12, 2017
Physicians and physicians-to-be are always given the same advice regarding burnout: sleep more, eat healthy, make time for things you enjoy. While all of these are certainly important, they have become rather vague and cliche.
Here are a few creative ways to beat and prevent burnout in medicine, from changing your perspective, to choosing where to work, to getting involved.
To change physician burnout, change your mind
Symptoms of burnout are typically associated with the mind, such as anxiety and depression. Thus, a very important step towards preventing burnout is changing the way you think. There is an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom coming from physicians, which trickles down to the next generation of doctors. As one physician observes:
“I’ve seen statistics and mathematical calculations painting a dark picture of the financial, personal and professional world of today’s physician, overwhelmed with debt, administrative nightmares, declining reimbursement, legislative red tape, and other headaches. Nonsense! I couldn’t be happier. I have an ideal work/life balance and a wholly satisfying career.
In order to be accessible to your patients, sometimes a work-life balance isn’t always achievable. Instead, physicians find creative ways to keep themselves motivated. One doctor shares his method of keeping a binder full of all his medical successes, special moments, thank you letters, etc. Such a simple practice can make a huge difference, even without changing your workload.
To cope with debt, count your blessings
It’s hard to get excited about a huge salary when you have piles of debt staring you in the face, especially when you see your friends and siblings financially homefree. Yet, just like there is always someone better off, there is always someone worse off. For example, consider your undergraduate peers who racked up tons of debt putting their way through school, only now to find themselves unemployed or with a low-end salary. For them, it will take much longer to pay off their student loans as they’ll have money going out much faster than it’s coming in.
One medical student, at the risk of sounding controversial, calls offers a similar perspective: “I feel worried for young Americans who have a similar total student loan debt as physicians, but graduate with much lower earning potential. Students should soberly consider educational debt against their likely ability to repay it. We must all choose our education wisely, as it may have lifelong consequences for our standard of living.” While a physician’s financial woes should not be taken lightly, they are also not a cause for despair considering the high value and longevity of the profession.
It’s not what you know; it’s where you go
One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to not put yourself in a situation where it’s likely to occur. Only you know your unique strengths, weaknesses, skills, and preferences, so it’s up to you to research and honestly assess those jobs which will lead to the best work-life balance. When choosing the right fit, there are many more factors to consider besides salary, position, and workload. You want to make sure the environment outside of work suits your personality, including the size of the city, the recreational activities, cost of living, etc.
To help you research, Medscape put together a list of rankings of the best places to practice based on least burnout. In addition to pointing out the main attribute of each state in preventing burnout, it also paints a realistic picture of the downfalls or challenges of living there.
When feeling down, don’t isolate; participate
Just about the worst thing you can do when you’re feeling depressed is to be alone. Something about talking with another person significantly alleviates your burdens and makes your problems seem less pronounced…even if nothing changes externally. Even though you are surrounded by people every day, they are usually professional relationships rather than those who can provide you with deep emotional care.
Getting involved in professional, yet out of work, activities can help you connect with your co-workers on a deeper level. For example, one physician talks about how coaching on a retreat saved his life, giving him the outlet he needed to express his struggles and empowering him both personally and professionally. According to a study done by Academic Medicine, he is not the only one experiencing the benefits. The study found “clinical coaching in early career hospitalists, positively impacting clinical decision making, confidence, and improved personal perception of the quality of care they delivered.” Efforts are being made to further encourage these projects.
To avoid physician burnout while you prep for the USMLE, check out our wide variety of USMLE prep courses.