What is burnout?

physician burnout2

Dr Jenny Napier in a recent article in GP-online offers the best description that I have found so far:

  • Emotional exhaustion – feeling unable to ‘give’ any more

  • Depersonalisation – not used in the normal psychiatric sense, but referring here to cynical attitudes towards patients and colleagues

  • Lack of personal accomplishment – a tendency to evaluate one’s work negatively

 Apparently, and some may feel, not surprisingly, women and men often perceive it differently, with women experiencing lack of personal accomplishment much earlier than men, who may not experience it at all.

Dr Dike Drummond of the HappyMD.com says on his podcast on the Dr Paradox, that the

  • Initial sign of burnout is that you are living in survival mode. You don’t look forward to being at work, you don’t like who you are at work, and you can’t see why you became a doctor in the first place.

  • You then start to feel trapped, like your head is up against a brick wall

At this point he suggests that you have 2 choices:

  • you can either “turn to the light” and seek help or

  • “turn to the dark” which could include drugs, alcohol, depression and mental illness.

This does sound quite dramatic, but there is evidence supporting this. and it really does emphasise the importance of pausing to find some headspace and reflect.

What changes can you make? There will clearly be some things that you can’t change, but there will be some changes that you can make that might prevent you from getting as bad as I did.


Burnout in doctors specifically

superhero doctor

Dr Dike Drummond describes there being  5 main causes of burnout in doctors:

  • You choose to be a doctor: the energy and outlay that this requires.

  • The conditions of your particular job i.e. on-call, patient list etc

  • Your home life – home is a place that you go to re- charge (the dilemma of burnout is the energy you expend at work versus the energy that you can re-charge at home.) There may be some aspects at home that make the re-charge impossible – divorce, young kids etc.

  • The leadership qualities of your boss or supervisor

  • The programming of our medical education which is laid down into us over 7-16 years.

Firstly, getting into medical school itself, the commitment that takes and the sense that others are perhaps lightweights.

Secondly, our personality traits – perfectionist, workaholic, lone ranger & superhero wanting to save the world which get hammered into us further at medical school and beyond.

Thirdly, other forms of conditioning ,such as never show any weakness and always put the patient first, which although noble, sets us up for burnout as we should be looking after ourselves before we can help others (like the oxygen mask on a plane).

Useful reading

  • Why doctors kill themselves   – a guest blog by Dr Pamela Wibble. Makes for really interesting reading. She reflects on the abused doctor becoming the abuser.

Copyright © Physician Burnout.co.uk 2016

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