Author: Mary Stoll Cahill, BSN, RN
A new year is here, and it's an opportune time to take a look at how you're implementing that thing they call "balance" into your life. Ask yourself, "How is my attitude toward my job?" and "Am I at risk of burnout — and if so, what can I do about it?"
Clinician burnout is a hot topic in the healthcare space, and according to recent studies, it's not showing signs of fizzling out. Clinician morale remains a critical problem. According to a burnout and satisfaction survey of US clinicians conducted the end of 2021, negativity dramatically increased from 38% to 63% over a two-year period.1
Similar findings of increased stress and anxiety are in the 2021 and 2022 Medscape National Physician Burnout & Depression Report. In 2022, 47% of physicians reported burnout, compared to 42% in 2021.
Can an attitude of gratitude help?
Research points to an attitude of gratitude as a remedy for low physician morale. Can counting your blessings really provide some relief from symptoms of burnout? According to the Happy MD website and research done by University of California at Berkeley with their Gratitude as Medicine Survival Kit, an attitude of gratitude is key!
Interesting to note in the reports are the various specialties and their level of burnout. In 2022, those ranking highest include emergency medicine (60%), critical care, Ob/Gyn, infectious diseases and family medicine. (In 2021, prevalence of burnout was in critical care, rheumatology, infectious disease and urology. As in previous surveys, women physicians report disproportionately higher percentages of burnout.2, 3
Physician assistants, nurse practitioners and nurses share experiences of similar job stress. The Medscape Physician Assistant Burnout Report 20224 indicated that over half of the physician assistants reported burnout and one third reported depression. I had a recent conversation with my own family member, who is a critical care nurse. She cites exhaustion and fear due to burnout.
This is the bad news. The good news is that the healthcare field, according to Reuters, is taking a more serious look at the burnout dilemma.5 Various reports have identified some effective solutions to mitigate burnout.5
But first, let's take a quick look at some symptoms and causes of burnout. Warning signs include: 6, 7
- Exhaustion — emotional, physical and mental
- Cynicism — Detachment from self, poor decision-making and job performance, disinterest in work
- Decreased sense of accomplishment
- Body aches and pains
- Excessive anger
- Poor attitude
- Behaviors such as missing work, tardiness, procrastinating and medicating with alcohol or drugs
Causes of burnout include:
- COVID-19 challenges
- The nature of the profession — patient care demands and stresses, long hours and not enough time to spend with patients
- Personality traits of physicians — hardworking, diligent, perfectionist, motivated, driven, self-care not a priority
- Current state of healthcare — increased documentation requirements, administrative tasks and technology
- Community — lack of support, isolation7
Consider not only the risk to patients when a physician is experiencing burnout, but also risk to the physician's personal health. Studies indicate that physicians who suffer from burnout are susceptible to medical errors and inferior patient care, which increases medical liability exposure risk.
These clinicians are also at high risk for depression, substance abuse and even suicide.
How healthcare professionals can find work/life health
What is a physician to do? Here are some suggestions to promote work/life health:
Promoting work/life health at work:
- Arrange "huddles" with your staff to discuss and evaluate the schedules or challenges that come up during the day.
- Slow down enough to evaluate your workday to assess how you can modify your work hours, and then set limits.
- Meet with your practice manager, if you have one. Discuss more efficient ways to share some of the labor. For example, delegate administrative tasks to your staff.6
Promoting work/life health in your personal life:
- Heed the advice you give your patients to promote wellness: Reduce stress effectively with adequate sleep, hydration, nutritious foods and exercise (even a 15-minute walk).
- Disconnect from technology each day and read something unrelated to medicine.
- Think about the task/relationship at hand and not about "work away from work."
- Nurture your life outside of the practice. Take time for fun and relaxation. A physician friend recently told me that one of his remedies for burnout is frequent doses of humor. My nurse family member rock climbs after work for fun and diversion.
Remember, healing thyself can go a long way to help you care safely and effectively for your patients.