Understanding Burnout

by Dr. Jerry Reeves

by Dr. Jerry Reeves

Are you or someone you know experiencing physician burnout?

Have you come across people with symptoms and signs of burnout? They don’t seem to be themselves – they are cynical and negative towards others, and are totally exhausted. They are stressed out and feel like they can’t do anything right. Have you felt this way?

A recent study of 2,000 physicians found that over 45 percent of physicians nationally have at least one symptom of burnout, and that number has been steadily increasing over the past two decades – much higher than other professions at that educational level.

Physicians often start out quite healthy, but then decline as they take less care of themselves. Early on in their careers, harried training schedules disrupt exercise, normal sleep habits and good eating. Life changes like isolation, divorce, moving to a new place, and general work overload increase their stress scores drastically. In recent decades, increased time devoted to billing and documentation requirements have displaced patient care time, leading to incread demands from payers and customers and less time for conversations and socialization with professional colleagues – all resulting in less happiness at work.

Patients trust physicians more than the internet, government, or insurance companies for helping them with their health decisions. This is usually due to their compassion, knowledge, and experience in their field – but physicians experiencing burnout often lose much of that compassion, reducing patient satisfaction and adherence to treatment recommendations. Stressed out clinicians may make more errors and leave clinical practice earlier, resulting in less access to needed health care services.

There are four major factors contributing to stress and burnout, and they include:

  1. Lack of control over work conditions.

  2. Time pressure

  3. Chaotic workplaces

  4. Lack of alignment of values around mission, purpose, and compensation between their leaders.

So what can we do to help? A great start is to understand the needs of physicians experience burnout by listening to their experiences.

Our goal is to help physicians lead balanced lives, have purposeful practices, and enjoy meaningful relationships. One great resource to help physicians assess and understand their situation by is the 10-item “Zero Burnout Program Survey”, created by the American Medical Association’s STEPS Forward program, which can be accessed by clicking here. Respondents can rank their experiences with things like job stress, workload control, and sense of burnout to help them establish priorities and create effective ways to combat burnout in their practice.

At the Clark County Medical Society, we are working to address the critical issue of physician burnout. In the following parts of this ongoing initiative, we will be looking at best practices from successful clinics and health organizations that have proven to reduce burnout, as well as alternate techniques like team huddles and Situation Background Assessment and Recommendation (SBAR) summaries to save time and improve satisfaction in the workplace.

Our goal is to understand the needs of physicians who are potentially suffering from burnout, and then provide tools to help combat this dangerous experience. If you or someone you know in the field of medicine is suffering from burnout, know that we are here for you.