According to the nurse’s note, the patient had received a clean bill of health from his regular doctor only a few days before, so I was surprised to see his request for a second opinion. He stared intently at my name badge as I walked into the room, then nodded his head at each syllable of my name as I introduced myself.
Shifting his gaze upward to my face, he said, “I’m here, Doc, to make sure I don’t have anything serious. I’m not sure my regular doctor was listening to everything I was trying to tell him.”
I smiled. To hide my embarrassment.
I had walked into the exam room to listen to this patient; but my mind was a few steps behind, as I struggled with thoughts…
Comic artist and physician Dr. Grace Farris asked fellow doctors, nurses and others in medicine how they are coping with the prolonged stress. Many say their creative outlets provide solace and community to help them through.
The job of a doctor in training is unspeakable. It is hard to find the words to describe what we do. It is hard to work out whom to tell. We cannot speak of these things to people outside medicine because it is too traumatic, too graphic, too much. But we cannot speak of these things within medicine, either, because it is not enough, it is just the job we do, hardly worth commenting on.
Professional burnout is the sum total of hundreds and thousands of tiny betrayals of purpose, each one so minute that it hardly attracts notice.
Burnout is a worrisome crisis throughout the medical profession, but there is something uniquely troubling about the fact that medical students experience pressures so great that they burn out on the profession before they’ve even joined it.
With 40% of a clinic visit spent on clerical tasks, relieving administrative duties represents an opportunity to give clinicians some time back.
So who can help?
Look no further than the patient, the one constant in a health-care journey.
Every little scrap of what we know about physician burnout prevalence comes from this small slice of volunteers from each of the total “N” of the surveyed group.
Physician burnout in the United States has reached epidemic proportions and is rising rapidly, although burnout in other occupations is stable. Its negative impact is far reaching and includes harm to the burned-out physician, as well as patients, coworkers, family members, close friends, and healthcare organizations.
In our work with thousands of over stressed and burned out doctors, it has been clear that burnout rates in the USA have been rising in the last several years. There is just too much political chaos, marketplace M&A activity and documentation overload for it to be otherwise.
Incentivizing with money is a self-fulfilling prophecy of cynicism. We must promote compassion, courage, and wisdom among our physicians before we "make a sordid business of this high and sacred calling."
The Mayo Clinic released a study on doctor burnout that resulted in a spate of articles last month (e.g., Forbes, Washington Post). Not only are the statistics jarring, the individual stories are gripping.
Research over the last 10 years has shown that burnout – the particular constellation of emotional exhaustion, detachment and a low sense of accomplishment – is widespread among medical students and doctors-in-training.
American physicians are increasingly unhappy with their once-vaunted profession, and that malaise is bad for their patients.
There are many potential reasons for the high rate of burnout and other issues that physicians struggle with.
Are electronic medical records and demanding regulations contributing to a historic doctor shortage?
Dr. Lorna Breen, who died by suicide on April 26, was the canary in the coal mine. You can see it in her eyes, and in her smile. I didn’t know her, but I’ll bet she sang. One of her causes was successful communication with autistic patients, something beyond most emergency physicians.
She was a leader in a profession and a specialty already reeling under the occupational syndrome of moral injury that is dismissively labeled “burnout,” too often mistakenly deemed to be a personal inadequacy rather than what it really is: a massive organizational failure.
Unfortunately, relatively little is known about treating burnout. But promising research points to mindfulness, the ability to be fully present and attentive in the moment, as a possible remedy. A few small studies indicate that mindfulness training courses can help doctors become more focused, more empathetic and less emotionally exhausted.
Since 2011, TheHappyMD.com has been the leader in the prevention of physician burnout for individual doctors and healthcare organizations.