Clinician Burnout: How to Recognize and Respond

Author: Dawn Buse

As professionals, we’re always thinking about the patients we’re helping and we rarely think about ourselves. Sometimes we feel even a little guilty when we do. And yet, I like to remind everyone when you’re listening to the safety instructions from the flight attendant, she or he says ‘put on your mask first before helping those around you.’ As healthcare professionals, we cannot take care of other people if we have nothing left to give. So it’s really important to be checking in to see how are my feelings about my job, how are my feelings about my work-life balance, how’s my energy, my motivation, and really looking for signs of burnout.

Burnout comes from a combination of high demands on one side and low support and resources on the other side. What we’re finding in reviews of physicians across the country is that there are more and more administrative requirements, and less and less time to see patients. Those are the institutional and job-related demands that may be problematic. Maintaining a work-life balance is also important. We remind patients to get enough sleep and exercise and eat properly and make time for themselves. But we need to take a look at ourselves and say am I getting adequate sleep? Am I getting adequate nutrition? Am I exercising or moving or engaging in hobbies that I like? Am I trying to keep a work-life balance with my family, friends and other loved ones who I care about. That balance is important to preventing burnout. A third area is emotional well-being. Anxiety and depression are actually very common in healthcare providers and we don’t always take the time to treat ourselves. In my practice as a psychologist, I see quite a few physicians, residents, and fellows from different specialties and I think it’s really important that people who care for others have a place and a time to share their stress and talk about what they’re going through. I think it’s okay for us to acknowledge that while caring for people with chronic pain is very important and necessary, it can be challenging. We really need our primary care professionals to be involved in pain management. Pain is a national epidemic of huge proportions and the primary care professionals are the frontlines. So, getting the resources and support and asking for and accepting help from the community of providers, administrators and allied professionals might lessen the burden a little bit.

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