BURNOUT: WHAT IS IT AND WHO DOES IT AFFECT?
For those of us in the medical field, burnout is a very serious reality that affects a sizable proportion of practitioners. Burnout is a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. Characteristics of burnout include feelings of inadequacy, decreased energy, blunted emotions, hopelessness, loss of motivations and ideals, detachment and often depression. As opposed to stress, where the damage to the individual is physical, the damage cause by burnout is emotional.
The alarming truth of the matter is that burnout is incredibly prevalent amongst medical professionals. As evidenced by the image to the right, rates of burnout amongst physicians overall nears 45%. Even more frightening is that there are varying levels based on specialities, with ER docs closer to 65%!!! This even extends to trainees, one review showed that burnout is highly “prevalent in medical students (28%–45%), residents (27%–75%).”¹ Clearly there are many contributing factors, including but not limited to long work hours, high stress situations, and caring for patents’ lives and well being. That kind of pressure can take a serious toll on providers psychologically.
That being said, burnout isn’t just important for the well being of the physician, but it has serious implications on patient care. Kang et. al² reported “Higher levels of burnout among interns and residents were associated with perceived medical errors.” In addition to objective measures of poor patient care, Argentero et. al³ demonstrated subjectively that “high levels of burnout in physicians and nurses are associated with poor patient satisfaction.” Either way you measure the data, burnout affects both providers and patient’s detrimentally. The unfortunate truth is that the amount of literature specifically assessing burnout is quite extensive.
While on my medicine rotation during my third year of medical school, I noticed myself drifting dangerously close to the point of burnout. Despite the fact that I eventually want to go into medicine, my thoughts slowly devolved from “I can’t wait to go into the hospital” to “I can’t wait for my day off.” I just felt like I wasn’t fully charged, so it got me to thinking; how does one recharge? Naturally, being the over analyzer that I am, I developed a theory.
HOW DO YOU RECHARGE?
First, one must make time to HAVE FUN. And that could be anything from which you derive pleasure. Some like hiking, some like going to bars, some like traveling. Whatever floats your boat, you just need to make the time to go sailing. (Sorry for overplaying the metaphor). Work can’t be the only thing that matters in life. Everyone has individual interests that exist outside of the professional career, and so it’s imperative that each of us has the time and opportunity to do what we enjoy doing. It reminds us that we living to work, but we are working to live.
Second, one must make time for RUNNING ERRANDS. Life, unfortunately, isn’t always fun and games. There are various things that need to get done, ranging from paying the bills to cleaning the house. It isn’t necessarily that completing these tasks confers a major emotional advantage, but rather having an overwhelming list of unfinished to dos can be just that–overwhelming. And that’s not even considering some to do’s have serious repercussions for tardiness. These are must dos, and completely them makes of feel accomplished.
Lastly, one must make time to DO NOTHING. The body isn’t built to go, Go, GO! Why do you think we have to sleep away 1/3 of our lives? Sometimes you just need a mental breather; to shut down and take a break from all the fun, errands and other responsibilities of life. Watch a “guilty pleasure” TV show, sit in the park, pet your dog…whatever. Cool down that mental engine before it overheats.
I believe that only once you’ve satisfied all three of these will you feel recharged. Problem is every person differ in terms of how they prioritize each of these. I, for one, will always make time to have fun, sometimes fit in some do nothing time, and running errands always falls at the wayside. As a result, the cleanliness of my room quickly deteriorates, my fridge becomes void of anything edible, and my list of To do’s becomes so extensive that I don’t want to even start addressing it. But I remind myself that until I satisfy all three, I’ll still feel unaccomplished, which the possibility of that leading to burnout. To prevent the worst, I make errands a priority and despite my abhorrence of errands, I get it done!
I know that I am not alone in this constant life long battle to stay motivated; to stave off becoming burned out. I believe remember that in order to do so, you must remember to satisfy all three aspects of good mental health: Having Fun, Doing Nothing and Running Errands. Only by accomplishing all three will you finally be recharged.
1- Waguih William IsHak, S. L. C. M. R. N. L. S. M. V. D. O. C. A. B. (2009). Burnout During Residency Training: A Literature Review. Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 1(2), 236–242. doi:10.4300/JGME-D-09-00054.1
2 – Kang, E.-K., Lihm, H.-S., & Kong, E.-H. (2013). Association of intern and resident burnout with self-reported medical errors. Korean Journal of Family Medicine, 34(1), 36–42. doi:10.4082/kjfm.2013.34.1.36
3 – Argentero, P., Dell’Olivo, B., & Ferretti, M. S. (2008). Staff burnout and patient satisfaction with the quality of dialysis care. American Journal of Kidney Diseases : the Official Journal of the National Kidney Foundation, 51(1), 80–92. doi:10.1053/j.ajkd.2007.09.011