What Causes Physician Burnout? Can It Be Avoided?

Physician Burnout

It’s no secret that doctors have a tough job. Despite this, most physicians are happy and proud to call themselves medical doctors. For this reason, the subject of physician burnout has been studied and explored by many people, including physicians themselves, who are looking to find a solution to the problem.

Doctors make many decisions every day, and these decisions have a wide ranging effect on their patients, nurses and administrators who work with them, and their practice as a whole. These decisions can weigh on a physician and slowly cause them to burn out.

But what is it about these decisions and circumstances that cause physician burnout? Sequence Health is here to delve into it in depth.

What Does Physician Burnout Look Like?

Medicine has some taboos and stigmas that may seem strange to those who are on the outside. Mental health strategies, stress management, and preventing burnout are not taught to new doctors, and they’re often not taken seriously despite the stakes. There’s an unspoken feeling that seeking help for burnout is a sign of weakness or incompetence. After all, if other doctors don’t need it, I shouldn’t need it!

Despite this, physician burnout is unbelievably common. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 physicians are experiencing burnout at any given time. It’s also very well known among physicians, who are acutely aware of the stresses that the job presents.

Burnout has three main symptoms, described by the Maslach Burnout Inventory. They are:

  1. Exhaustion. This symptom is an obvious one, but it’s characterized by abnormally low energy levels and fatigue that doesn’t seem to go away.
  2. Depersonalization. This happens when the physician starts to emotionally disconnect, but not because they lack compassion: it’s because connecting emotionally is simply too exhausting.
  3. Lack of efficacy. This happens when the physician starts to question the purpose or the impact that they have.

What Causes Physician Burnout?

Long hours.

Physicians are no stranger to working long hours, but doing so for years without any reprieve can have some serious consequences. This becomes worse when physicians feel like their work lacks purpose or if they spend too much time on tasks that don’t directly contribute to patient outcomes.

Focusing on non-patient-related tasks.

When you run a medical practice, you run a business. In any business, there is work that needs to be done that doesn’t have any direct relation to serving customers. Doctors go into the profession, in part, because they want to make a difference in the lives of their patients. When their focus moves away from that, the toil can really build up.

Life stress.

Sometimes, life gets stressful. These stresses can be related to positive things, such as a new relationship, purchasing a home, or having a child. Or, these stresses can be negative, such as a divorce, a lawsuit, or dealing with an illness or death in the family. Doctors usually use their home time to recover from the stresses of the job, but when they’re unable to do that, they burn out.

How Can Burnout Be Avoided?

Invest in mental health.

Even though doctors don’t like to seem weak, investing in mental health doesn’t mean that you are weak. Plus, you don’t have to tell anyone!

Investing in mental health could mean starting a meditation or exercise routine, seeing a therapist, or getting psychiatric help. It’s entirely up to you, but making sure your mental health is good can help prevent burnout from taking hold.

Invest in making your practice more efficient.

Doctors often burn out because they’re spending too much time on tasks unrelated to patient care. Eliminating or delegating as many of these tasks as possible can help reduce the likelihood of burnout. This, in turn, can help you work fewer hours and spend more time doing the work you love.