There is no denying the fact that physician burnout is a growing problem in the United States. The statistics that support this trend are appalling:
- Approximately 1 in 3 doctors experience physician burnout at any given time
- Doctors are 15 times more likely to experience burnout than other types of professionals
- 45% of primary care physicians report that, if finances allowed, they would quit their jobs
- There are approximately 300 to 400 physician-suicide deaths every year
These numbers make a strong case that physician burnout is a major issue that needs to be addressed and addressed quickly.
Physician Burnout Symptoms
The symptoms of physician burnout bear a strong resemblance to those typically seen in other stress disorders, but there are also distinct differences. Dr. Dike Drummond, author of the blog, “The Happy MD“, hits the nail on the head by identifying that physician burnout occurs when stress is present and a doctor is unable to recover from it in their free time. He pinpoints three distinct burnout symptoms:
1. Physical and emotional exhaustion that leaves you worn out and unable to recover during down time.
2. The development of a cynical and negative attitude with regard to your work and your patients.
3. A reduced sense of purpose and a feeling that your work is meaningless and without value.
A variety of factors in a doctor’s work life combine to explain why burnout has become so prevalent. The most common factors that lead to this syndrome include:
- The inherent stress that comes with the job. Any profession that includes high responsibility and a small amount of control over outcomes is bound to be stressful. Adding to this stress are the kinds of outcomes that can occur as a result of physician decisions. It’s no wonder that stress levels are high.
- The extreme lack of work-life balance. Doctors are expected to be available 24/7. This expectation, combined with long hours and shifting schedules, can have a negative impact on physicians in numerous ways, including:
- Poor sleep patterns
- Interference with family relationships (doctors tend to have a divorce rate that is 10 – 20 percent higher than the general population)
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Overwhelming administrative hassles. Being a physician in today’s medical world is rarely as simple as just being able to treat illness. Navigating the mazes of insurance paperwork and the new burdens of healthcare reform has added extra administrative work to a doctor’s duties. They must keep up with it if they want to get paid for their services and remain compliant with government regulations.
An Even Greater Challenge
It’s easy to see how the everyday challenges of being a doctor can continuously build up until the physician hits the burnout stage. The real difficulty lies in understanding how we can improve those statistics. The unfortunate reality is that many doctors will not seek assistance for physician burnout even when they realize there is a problem. There are several reasons for this:
- Fear: licenses have the potential of being denied if a doctor is under treatment for substance abuse or depression and many physicians are afraid to take that risk.
- Pride: in comparison to other professions, the world of physicians is pretty small. This means that a doctor seeking treatment would most likely be getting help from a colleague. Since doctor’s careers are built on reputation, it can be difficult for a physician to let a colleague see their perceived weaknesses, even in light of patient privacy laws.
- Poor self-care: the combination of all the stressors mentioned above often lead to a doctor not taking care of themselves simply because they don’t have the time or energy to do so.
Where to Go from Here
If you or someone you know is showing signs of physician burnout, it’s important to seek help. Don’t let yourself become part of the growing statistics related to this trend. Recognizing and acknowledging this is a concern can be the biggest stepping stone toward finding a resolution.
For more information about easing the effects of physician burnout, contact the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders at 561-496-1094. Also, you can email The Center at their Delray Beach, Florida location.