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Life + Career DO Well Toolkit Physician Burnout

Physician Burnout

Road to recovery

Risks, warning signs and how to cope

Identifying the problem is the first step toward preventing and recovering from burnout and exhaustion.

Burnout is common among medical professionals. It’s defined as a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment. Overwhelming caseloads, mountains of paperwork and EHR frustrations are all cited as top contributors by physicians who suffer from burnout, though the problem can begin long before a doctor enters active practice. In fact, data shows that burnout often begins to set in before medical students enter residency.

If untreated, physician burnout can deepen into depression, according to experts. “A lot of people try to hide it,” according to Steven Gates, DO, vice president of graduate medical education at Corpus Christi Medical Center-Bay Area in Texas.

By the numbers

Approxminately 44% of physicians surveyed for Medscape's 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report identified as burned out, with another 11% reporting "colloquial depression," generally described as feeling "down" or "blue."

Burned out

44 %

Coloquially depressed

11 %

Clinically Depressed

4 %

Risk factors

Nearly half of physicians report feelings of burnout, and those most statistically at-risk include women and individuals age 45-54, according to the 2019 Medscape report based on responses from more than 15,000 physicians practicing in more than 29 specialties.

The report lists urology, neurology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, internal medicine and emergency medicine as the top five specialties with the highest rates of burnout.

Warning signs

You might be experiencing burnout if you:

  • Feel tired all the time and lack energy.
  • Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Experience forgetfulness or struggle to concentrate.
  • Become pessimistic.
  • Have feelings  of incompetence, poor achievement and low motivation.
  • Feel isolated.
  • Experience hopelessness or other signs of depression.

How to cope

Prioritizing self-care and reducing stress are two coping methods recommended by physicians who have found their way back from the brink of burnout. “I noticed that putting myself and my priorities first ultimately made me a better physician to my patients,” shares Vania Manipod, DO, a psychiatrist who blogs about her experience with burnout in an effort to destigmatize depression and help other physicians recognize the symptoms.

Other things that might help:

  • Talking with trusted friends, spending time in nature, listening to music or carving out a little time for a favorite hobby.
  • Finding a meaningful activity outside medicine, such as volunteering, joining a club or training for a marathon.
  • Joining peers for an exercise class or a group run. A JAOA study found those who worked out in a group experienced a reduction in stress levels compared to those who worked out solo.
  • Practicing mindfulness with a meditation app or simply closing your eyes to focus on your breathing.
  • Getting more Zzs. Most of us need seven to nine hours of sleep. To get there, slowly add more time for rest and build up to your goal.
  • Establishing initiatives at work to limit work hours and creating safe havens for discussing challenges with peers.
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