What is physician burnout?
Physician burnout has three elements:
1 Emotional exhaustion
3 Lost sense of personal accomplishment
But what exactly is burnout, and what does it feel like?
Our energy levels work like our bank accounts.
If our bank account goes overdrawn or negative, we replenish it by adding more funds.
However, if we stop adding funds, eventually, we will go bankrupt.
As we work, our energy reserves go down, and we replenish them by resting.
However, if we do not get enough rest or time off work, those energy levels continue to deplete until we experience the equivalent of energy bankruptcy or burnout.
Why are physicians at higher risk of burnout?
There are a few different factors that add to the increased risk of physician burnout. These factors include longer than average work hours, free time spent doing admin and charting, not enough 1 to 1 time with patients - You can read more about the causes of physician burnout here.
How many people are affected by physician burnout? Too Many!
Here are Seven shocking statistics on how many Doctors are affected by burnout:
1-According to some studies, around 46% of physicians experience burnout, 42% in 2021. That is nearly 1 in 2!
2-Younger physicians- those under 55 - are 200% more likely to experience burnout symptoms than physicians aged over 55.
3-42% of physicians are reluctant to seek mental health treatment. Not seeking help for burnout is another crisis in itself. I speak about getting help for burnout and depression here.
4-51% of female physicians experience burnout compared to 36% of men.
5-94% of females with a diagnosis do not disclose it - Ladies! Keeping this bottled up will not solve anything; please get help!
6-53% of Doctors with burnout said it affected their work in 2021.
7-Over 50% of Doctors work 50 - 80 hours per week.
How we can work together to reduce physician burnout
I think you would agree that those statistics are terrible!
No wonder physician burnout is a crisis in the US.
Things need to change.
But that change will not happen unless we do something about it.
The AMA is looking into physician burnout, and they have made some recommendations based on their research into the causes and solutions for workplace burnout.
Dr. Sinsky, the Vice President of Professional satisfaction at the AMA, recently wrote a discussion paper on the topic.
“The majority of burnout is related to systems factors,” said Dr. Sinsky. “The most effective ways to reduce burnout are through systems improvement.”
Progress in the workplace at the systems level can help with the personal factors noted in the report. Physicians who have optimized teamwork or have improved workflow “have been able to go home an hour or more earlier every night,” she added.
“Whether you are male or female, a parent or non-parent, that extra time can go a long way to restoring your sense of wellbeing,” said Dr. Sinsky.
I think Dr. Sinsky is right.
You really do need a great team around you, particularly if you are running your own practice.
You need to ensure all of your processes and systems are as efficient as possible.
Those were the first steps I took when I experienced burnout and realized that I needed to change my work habits.
Otherwise, I would be trapped working 70+ hours each week and not be present for my children.
If you want to reduce your hours, increase your income and have a better work-life balance, there are steps you can take.
If you are working too many hours, you must build a good team around you and delegate some work.
Long working weeks are not sustainable and increase your chances of burnout.
Research shows that reducing your work hours has a significant effect on reducing and recovering from burnout.
Dr. Andrew Clarke, executive director of the Physician Health Program of Doctors BC, says “Generally, when physicians recover from burnout, it usually involves reducing their total working hours,” he says. The time is needed to rejuvenate physically and emotionally, and “to implement some kind of recovery and coping strategy.” That often involves figuring out ways to do more of the work that is enjoyable and less of the work that is draining.
If delegating is not possible, consider ways to supplement your income, or non-clinical jobs, so that you can reduce your hours.
As a physician, there are several ways that you can supplement your income.
I have written a detailed post about it, which you can read here.
For me, becoming an IME Provider was one of the most effective ways to cut down my hours without reducing my income.
Several physicians are now learning how to do Independent Medical Examinations and are now much happier in their work.
Please get in touch if you would like to find ways to reduce your work hours and supplement your income.