Last week, I mentioned Dr Dike Drummond’s “Burnout prevention matrix”. For me this provides a great way to dissect burnout prevention by looking at strategies to reduce stress at home and work and to increase our recharge in both.
This week, I want to focus on strategies for reducing stress at work. After my own research and through talking to other doctors, I have compiled a list of suggestions. These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive and will not suit every individual or work environment. They are a starting point to help you find techniques that work for your own situation.
1. Talk to colleagues & peers
Are any of them struggling with the same issues as you? Are there changes at your practice that could be easily made that would benefit you all? Such as using admin support more efficiently.
2. Reduce your hours or workload.
Are you able to cut back on any external commitments that are work-related, such as private work, extra roles? Can you reduce your clinic time or increase your consulting time? Are there other commitments in your personal life that aren’t essential? Commitments that could be reigned in whilst you take action (unless they are energising).
3. Set firm boundaries.
I certainly have always struggled with this. As doctors, many of us share that sense of being superhuman, something that is driven home continuously throughout our training, along with the noble intention of ‘putting the patient first’. Of course, the patient is of paramount importance but, in order to care effectively for others, we also need to look after ourselves. Consider the analogy of the oxygen mask on the plane.
Setting boundaries means being able to say no to extra work (where reasonable and in a kind way), being clear as to what you are taking on and knowing your limits. It is also about setting clear boundaries with patients.
4. Take a pause
When you are feeling stressed or overloaded, pause for a moment and take a few breaths to recalibrate. This can sometimes be enough to enable you to think more clearly about your next move. It may enable you to focus more effectively. The pause might also stop you reacting unproductively or having a negative conversation with someone that you might regret later.
5. Be proactive
Making sure that you start the day ahead of the game. For example, simple things like ensuring that your room is well stocked and your equipment all in working order before you start. I have wasted so much time in clinics searching cupboards looking for new batteries and paper or scouring other people’s rooms for the sonicaid. Being on the back foot has certainly added to my stress levels in the past and meant that I have often run significantly behind. Dr Deen Mirza discusses some really useful time saving strategies for GPs in his series of books on the consultation.
6. Invest time in improving your IT skills
For example, use hot keys and set up short cuts in advance. Learn to touch type. These are time saving strategies that I wish that I had invested in much earlier on in my career.
7. Set aside time at the end of your day
Set some headspace aside at the end of your day to mentally clear your desk so that you are less likely to take work home.
I bypassed the prevention stage completely and headed straight to having to think about recovery. If I had recognised where my stress and anxiety would have led me, and the impact that it would have on my family and work, I would certainly have taken more effective action sooner.
This is the 2nd part of a four-part series of posts on physician burnout. The next one will look at ways that we can increase our re-charge at work.